Xiya Ma

Her TEDMED experience

When I first saw that email from Joule congratulating me for being selected as one of their student ambassadors for TEDMED 2018, I was in the middle of an afternoon obstetrics clinic, about to make a quick UptoDate search on pre-eclampsia. While I buzzed with excitement and struggled to stay calm to not frighten a fellow clerk, I just remember announcing to myself out loud: I’m going to TEDMED.

Where to start? From the excitement of being in one of the greatest innovation conference worldwide to the awe of meeting some of my idols in health care, from the desolation of hearing heartbreaking stories of loss to the sheer hope of witnessing all the emerging medical technologies, TEDMED was three days of pure emotion. The physical exhaustion of each day has been well compensated by the freshness of new ideas and the wonder of meaningful discussions.

After the experience, I spent the following days continually revisiting my memories from TEDMED in order to understand the ways it changed me and to summarize my key takeaways from these three days. Here are some of these lessons:

  1. Just go for it. It can feel very intimidating to approach important individuals, out of fear of sounding silly, of being rejected or of simply freezing on the spot. I went into TEDMED pledging to myself to simply walk up to those I wanted to talk to before my fears make me hesitate, and I am pleasantly surprised how well it worked. I definitely plan to try it again in future networking events.
  2. It is never too early. Throughout my education, I came across brilliant youth with incredible ideas who never pushed them further. “This is too hard for my level.” “No one will take me seriously.” However, TEDMED was full of examples of projects started by young bright minds who have grown to become pioneers in their field. Innovation is not easy, but it does not need to done alone: every successful idea that I have encountered had multidisciplinary teams behind it, from medicine to engineering, even visual arts and music. This was a very encouraging discovery for me that I want to keep in mind for my future projects, and to cheer on others’ initiatives.
  3. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Another important lesson that TEDMED showed me is how innovation is not always about coming up with something completely novel, but can also be the re-purposing current technologies to solve other problems. For instance, many innovations focused on making classic medical instruments such as a stethoscope or an ultrasound machine available on mobile devices, so the technology can be brought to resources-limited settings.
  4. Listen. While many speakers were giants in their field who have worked on their discipline for decades, others were emerging leaders who are starting their journey. Regardless, every story that I have heard had their own flavour, their own message. By genuinely listening actively to what other people have to say, you learn so much more behind the meaning of every tone, every movement, every word. As per a fellow ambassador’s recommendation, I will be reading TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by TED host Chris Anderson.

If I had to choose the most exciting event during TEDMED 2018, it would have to be our own Joule by the Fire. This event gathered some esteemed TEDMED speakers, innovators and hosts to a private networking session with the Joule team and its ambassadors. It was such a pleasure to be able to have one-on-one conversations with the people we saw on stage, which made me appreciate the human side behind the work they did.

Now that I am back in Montreal, I took every opportunity I had to share my experience to my colleagues, my teachers, my friends and family. I told them about the incredibly nice and open people I spoke to, the wild ideas that are becoming reality, the thoughtful discussions at meet-ups and, of course, the paradoxical Palm Springs weather (summer during the day, autumn at night). Though I often feel like I cannot do the experience justice, as you genuinely need to live through TEDMED to truly understand the ways it transforms you. TEDMED challenges your beliefs, defies your imagination and makes you want change.

Was it worth the trouble to apply via the Joule Challenge? To me, the question should have been: can we apply again? Attending TEDMED was, as the saying goes, a dream come true. I recall many evenings spent watching TEDMED speakers in fascination with their work, and wanting desperately to ask them: what’s next? I wanted to know more, and now I finally got to know more.

To conclude, I would like to thank my fellow student and resident ambassadors - Marc, Gaya and Mino – along with the rest of the Joule staff for embarking on this life-changing adventure with me. Besides, who knows who will be on the stage next?

About Xiya Ma

Xiya Ma is a 3rd year MD-MSc student from Université de Montréal with a passion for surgery, biomedical research and global health. She recently completed her MSc in experimental medicine, exploring novel ways to improve the neurotechnological interface of intraneural electrodes for peripheral nerve pathologies.

She is an accomplished collaborator who has worked extensively within her local medical student association and the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) during her preclinical years. She now leads as the Vice-President of Internal Affairs of the International Student Surgical Network (InciSioN), the world's leading Global Surgery trainee network, as well as the Vice-President of External Affairs of the Canadian Global Surgery Trainee Alliance (CGSTA), the national group of InciSioN in Canada.

The greatest health care innovation Xiya has seen in recent history
“The ability to bring the technology and expertise of tertiary centres to patients living in remote areas in a cost-efficient way for all parties involved. For instance, a plastic surgeon used a google glass to live stream a malar fat pad removal surgery, providing a learning opportunity for his Brazilian colleagues. This pilot project highlighted that the learners were very satisfied with the quality of the training and were interested in having more sessions.”

Xiya Ma