5 TED Talks every doctor should watch

By Jonathan Ford Hughes | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published October 6, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • These 5 Ted Talks can help change the way you think about medicine.

  • Covering everything from sleep to psychedelics, there's no limit to the inspiring work ongoing in the medical field.

  • Watching the right Ted Talk may even reinvigorate your love of medicine.

The demands of modern medicine can sometimes leave doctors feeling drained or uninspired. But a good TED Talk is often an excellent way to gain new clinical insights, entertain new ideas, or to remember why you became a doctor in the first place. These 5 TED Talks explore a diverse array of medical topics, some of which you might not have considered before, but all of which will broaden your perspective on medicine.

B.J. Miller, MD: What really matters at the end of life

B.J. Miller, M.D., is a palliative care and hospice physician, as well as the executive director of the Zen Hospice Project. In his TED Talk, Miller shares how his own near-death experience informed his perspective on dying. An accident while attending Princeton University claimed his legs and left arm and left him clinging to life in a burn unit. He saw how the American healthcare system excels at delivering emergent care, but falls short everywhere else—especially in how it deals with death.

“Now, the American health care system has more than its fair share of dysfunction—to match its brilliance, to be sure,” Miller says. “I’m a physician now, a hospice and palliative medicine doc, so I’ve seen care from both sides. And believe me: almost everyone who goes into healthcare really means well—I mean, truly. But we who work in it are also unwitting agents for a system that too often does not serve.”

Regardless of your specialty, Miller offers some thought-provoking insights on how physicians and the healthcare system handles dying, as well as how to deliver true human-centered care instead of disease-centered care.

Paul Stamets at TEDMED 2011

Forget about the Dos Equis guy. Paul Stamets is the most interesting man in the world. He’s a mycologist, entrepreneur, and author who has dedicated his life to understanding mushrooms and using them for our health benefit.

In this TED talk, Stamets discusses how fungi have helped and continue to aid in the fight against vector-borne disease and antimicrobial resistance. His research often takes part in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.

“This is a paradigm-shifting revolutionary breakthrough on the most fundamental of levels,” he says of one of his findings, which attracts and kills dangerous insects. 

In this talk, Stamets also explains how the oldest-living mushroom species in the world may contain future breakthroughs for antimicrobial and antiviral medicines.

Matthew Walker, PhD: Sleep is your superpower

Matthew Walker’s message is quite clear: If there’s anything you can do to universally improve your health, it’s sleep more and sleep better. In this TED Talk, Walker calls attention to the myriad health detriments that are the result of sleep deprivation.

“There’s a simple truth,” Walker says, “The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life. Short sleep predicts all-cause mortality.”

In his talk, Walker explains how sleep deprivation shuts down activity in the hippocampus, limiting our ability to solidify new memories in our brains. He also highlights new research that’s linking sleep deprivation to Alzheimers and dementia. 

"Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity."

Matthew Walker, PhD

Rick Doblin: The future of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy

Many of us think of psychedelic drugs as an element of ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture. However, research is showing that drugs such as MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine may play a critical role in helping patients with PTSD, social anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, and substance abuse.

Rick Doblin is the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). This non-profit pharmaceutical company has been researching the therapeutic use of psychedelics since the ‘80s. In his TED Talk, Doblin explains ongoing research, which is shedding light on how the human mind works, as well as the therapeutic benefits of guided therapy sessions in clinical settings. 

“We anticipate that over the next several decades, there will be thousands of psychedelic clinics established, at which, therapists will be able to administer MDMA, psilocybin, ketamine and other psychedelics to potentially millions of patients,” Doblin says.

"These clinics can also evolve into centers where people can come for psychedelic psychotherapy for personal growth, for couples therapy or for spiritual, mystical experiences."

Rick Doblin

Doblin illuminates the research by sharing personal stories about those who have benefited from the therapy, including one soldier who was able to put his PTSD behind him, and a sexual assault survivor, who was finally able to process her trauma.

Nathalia Holt, PhD: How stigma shaped modern medicine

Science writer Nathalia Holt opens her TED Talk with a simple question: What would you rather have, diabetes or HIV? Both are chronic conditions easily managed by pharmaceuticals and lifestyle modification. But one has stigma attached, and the other doesn’t.

"Just as important as science, just as important as medicine, is our perception of disease."

Nathalia Holt, PhD

Cancer used to be a word people couldn’t even say on the radio. HIV was once labeled “gay cancer.” Tuberculosis was once considered a disease perpetuated by and afflicting the poor. 

In her talk, Holt explains how diseases such as cancer and HIV used to be nearly unmentionable in society until coordinated publicity and efforts reversed the stigma surrounding them and cleared the way for the expansion of treatment options and fundraising.

“Changing how a disease is perceived is just as critical as anything coming out of a lab,” she says. “We can’t change medicine until we change opinions.”

What this means for you

While TED Talks are all drastically different, each offers a perspective and insights that may benefit practicing physicians. You can find even more medical TED Talks here.

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