A librarian doing her part to fight the opioid crisis. A Brazil-based retina specialist caring for babies with Zika as part of a multidisciplinary team. A clinical psychologist bringing people together to promote racial literacy. These thought leaders and four others spoke about their work during TEDMED’s Raising Health session focused on health across the lifespan — a session watched live from Dell Medical School’s Health Discovery Building by about 60 members of the Austin community. Attendees represented areas of health care, policy, nonprofits and more.
Hosted by the school’s Design Institute for Health and departments of Population Health and Internal Medicine, the event included a post-broadcast conversation led by Dell Med’s Liz Jacobs on how lessons learned from the speakers can be applied to help revolutionize how Central Texans get and stay healthy. Jacobs, chief of Primary Care and Value-Based Care in the departments of Population Health and Internal Medicine, started the discussion by asking what from the session resonated with the audience members.
“All of the speakers were dealing with huge issues,” said Katherine Jones, strategy and brand architect of the Design Institute. “I loved how each one of them had found a way to keep following a thread that was pulling them toward making a difference.”
Many people affirmed Jones’s statement, focusing on how the Raising Health speakers had to face immense challenges while finding health solutions. For example, pediatrician Sandy Hassink explained in her talk that she often encountered the question, “Why do you bother?” in her work to reduce childhood obesity and the stigmas associated with it.
“Why do any of us bother?” she posed to session viewers. “Because of our love of patients or science — or both.”
That dedication was evident in other talks as well. Chera Kowalski, the adult teen librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s McPherson Square Branch, shared her experience breaking down in tears when she realized it was “normal” for the students to witness graphic scenes of opioid overdose on the library’s grounds. This moment of heartbreak came after Kowalski intervened in one overdose taking place by administering naloxone — a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of opioids. Although not a typical duty for a librarian, advocating for the training and resources to provide naloxone is just one of the steps she took to transform her library into a safe, responsive space for the neighborhood it serves. Kowalski said that she sees how the opioid crisis is not only affecting individuals, but entire communities, and will continue her work to fight its impact.
Addressing health needs in context with an individual’s lived environment is a concept that Dell Med faculty, staff and students know well. Part of our mission is to improve health in our community as a model for the nation — through care transformation, research, medical education and more. One participant in the post-broadcast conversation noted that several of the stories related to how privilege plays into health care, how circumstances and inequities impact outcomes. The stories touched on topics including the paradoxically combined burdens of obesity and food insecurity; how access to insurance can impact our health; how health inequities and immigration affect the gut microbiome; and differences in health risk factors among the sexes.
TEDMED presenter Howard Stevenson also spoke about his work in developing culturally relevant, strength-based measures and therapeutic interventions that teach racial literacy to families and youth. According to Stevenson, racial literacy involves being able to “read, recast and resolve a racially stressful encounter.” His talk, enhanced with audio recordings of conversations about race that he’s had with his son, struck a chord with members the audience.
“The audience was very engaged and drawn in by the talks,” Jacobs said. “We hope to continue the momentum created to advance our thinking about population health in Austin — to remember that health is determined by so many diverse factors and that we can move a population towards better health. Sometimes, initiating change just requires one person with a good idea who deeply cares.”