5 physicians’ TED talks that will leave you thinking (video)

TED talks physicians

Taboo topics. Novel ideas. Thought leaders willing to take risks. Candid conversations about problems.

That’s what we need more of in healthcare. It’s also the beauty of TED talks. In the five clips below, physicians step outside the realm of comfortable and deliver presentations about biased research, death, errors and politics in medicine that left our brains turning.

Dr. Ben Goldacre


The British physician known for his “Bad science” column in The Guardian calls to question the concept of evidence-based medicine in this talk about publication bias, a “systematic flaw in the core of medicine.” What’s the medical community to do when positive findings are twice as likely to get published as negative or inconclusive findings, and half of all clinical trial data goes “missing in action”?

Dr. David Agus

There is a fundamental problem with the way the research community has studied cancer over the past 50 years, Agus, an oncologist, asserts in this talk. It’s that they’ve taken a reductionist approach, trying to understand cancer, when really they should be trying to control cancer. It’s a system, not a thing.

But our vocabulary for describing cancer is still primarily symptoms and body parts. “Hopefully we will be able to do what they do in infectious disease, which is to look at that bacteria and say, this antibiotic makes sense because you have a particular kind of bacteria that will respond to it.”

Dr. Brian Goldman

Fail early, fail often is a favorite startup motto. In most other fields, too, mistakes are common and accepted. Why shouldn’t doctors, then, feel comfortable admitting their mistakes and talking about them with others to learn from them. In this talk, Goldman advocates for a culture change in a system in which mistakes are denied and doctors are either good or bad.

Dr. Deborah Rhodes

“The breast has become a very political organ,” says the internal medicine doctor on the lessons she’s learned about disruptive innovation. Her chance meeting with a nuclear physicist resulted in the creation of a makeshift machine that uses gamma rays to detect tumors in dense breasts. “We were trying to take on the entrenched world of mammography with a machine that was held together by duct tape,” she explains.

But even after incremental improvements to the machine over the years, studies that demonstrated its superior ability to detect small tumors in dense breasts, and clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, MBI still hasn’t been widely adopted. “I recognize that the adoption of this technology will depend as much on economic and political forces as it will on the soundness of the science.”

Dr. Peter Saul

Technology has made it easier for us to “delay” and “redirect” death, but the notion of a “life-saving” technology is just false. Everyone will die, says Saul, who works in an intensive care unit in Australia. Unfortunately, too few people have plans for what will happen if, or when, they become deathly ill. That’s making the process of dying in intensive care extremely stressful for families. Saul presents some ideas in this lesson on dying in the 21st century.

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