The Most Influential Medical Experts You Never Heard Of

Featured Article, Healthy Living
on August 27, 2013
The Most Influential Medical Experts You Never Heard Of.
Kimberly Blackwell, MD

Nowadays, all you hear is “Dr. Oz This,” and “Dr. Oz that.” But plenty of other medical experts who may be off your radar are doing important work to improve our well-being. Below are 10 medical experts—from technology gurus to drug developers to government servants—each making an impact on our health and wellness.

Jeff Arnold
Founder, WebMD
In 1998, Jeff Arnold, then 28 and a dropout from The University of Georgia, founded WebMD, the first healthcare company to use the internet to pass reliable medical information to consumers, healthcare institutions and physicians. He left the company in 2000 and became the chairman and CEO of In 2010, with Dr. Mehmet Oz, he launched Sharecare, a health and wellness social network that connects viewers to expert information and allows them to use interactive tools to manage their health.

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Mel and Enid Zuckerman
Co-founders, Canyon Ranch 
In 1978, Mel Zuckerman was an overweight homebuilder, who at 50, knew his health was that of someone decades older. Finally, after his father died of lung cancer, full of regret that he hadn’t stopped smoking, Zuckerman checked in at a fitness center. Within 10 days, he was running a mile and a half in 12 minutes. He and his wife, Enid, resolved then to help people start moving and get healthy by founding Canyon Ranch, a premiere health and wellness spa with locations in Arizona and New York. The Zuckermans also gave $10 million to the to fund the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in 2000, its main mission to promote prevention and eliminate health disparities among underserved populations. In 2002, with Canyon Ranch co-founder Jerry Cohen, they established the Canyon Ranch Institute, a non-profit organization that works to prevent disease and promote wellness.

Francis Collins, MD, PhD
Director, National Institutes of Health
Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist, is the man behind the Human Genome Project, directing the identification of all 20,500 genes in human DNA.  He then helped discover the gene for cystic fibrosis and other diseases. As National Institutes of Health head, he is in charge of American biomedical research.  He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007 and the National Medal of Science in 2009.

Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD, FCCM,
Patient Safety Leader
Anesthesiologist and critical care physician Peter Pronovost, director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, has developed a method for reducing deadly bloodstream infections associated with central line catheters. Such infections kill 31,000 American a year, almost as many people as those who die of breast cancer. His checklist protocol eliminated the infections in a pilot program across Michigan, and is now used widely throughout the United States and in several other countries. He is the author of Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals.

Kimberly Blackwell, MD
Leading Breast Cancer Researcher
Oncologist Kimberly Blackwell, professor of medicine and assistant professor of radiation oncology at Duke University, works to develop drugs to fight a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). She was a lead developer of the breast cancer drug treatment lapatinib (Tykerb), approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2007. And last year, she was the principal investigator on a clinical trial of T-DM1 (marketed as Kadcyla), a drug for advanced HER2 breast cancer approved by the FDA in 2013. Time Magazine named her one of 2013’s most influential people.

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Tom Vilsack
Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, born into an orphanage, has an eye out for children. He helped establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2013 “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards: Schoolchildren will now have fewer high-fat, sugary options and more healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. He and the USDA have also signed onto First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which focuses on improving children’s fitness and nutrition. And he has helped change food safety standards to prevent illnesses by reducing the prevalence of dangerous bacteria in meat and poultry.

David Green, MPH
Medical Technology Innovator
A former carpenter, David Green has been building ways to improve health in developing countries for the past 25 years. In the 1990s, while working for the non-profit medical manufacturer, Seva Foundation, he figured out how to fabricate and sell intraocular lenses, which greatly improve vision after cataract surgery, at rates even the poor could afford. The lenses, now sold in 86 countries, go for an average $8 compared to $150 in the U.S.  He calls his methods, which streamline production and distribution, “compassionate capitalism.”  He did much the same with sterile surgical sutures, rare in developing countries before his involvement. In 2,000 he created his own Berkley-based nonprofit, Project Impact, and applied the same methods to make high-tech hearing aids available in developing countries. He’s now focused on accomplishing the same coup with AIDS drugs.

Miriam E. Nelson, PhD
Founder and Director, StrongWomen Program
With a focus on preserving bone and muscle, Miriam Nelson started a wave of strength-training for women in the United States with her 1997 publication of Strong Women Stay.  This fall, she’s doing a cross-country tour “Strong Women Across America” to improve women’s diet and exercise.  She is the director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. Her non-profit StrongWomen Program is now established in 40 states.

Martin Seligman, PhD
Founder, Positive Psychology
Early in his work at the University of Pennsylvania, Seligman began to be interested in the study of optimism. In 1996, when he was elected president of the American Psychological Association, he chose positive psychology as the theme for his term.  The positive psychology movement focuses on what makes people happy and fulfilled, unlike traditional psychology which focuses on mental illness.  Seligman is the author of more than 20 books, including Authentic Happiness. He is the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Brian Wansink, PhD
Mindful Eating Pioneer
Initially a marketing guy, Wansink is now considered an influential “food psychologist,” who published Mindless Eating in 2006. It started a wave of new thought about how overweight Americans could lose weight by eating more mindfully, and tweaking certain attributes of their environment, such as the size of their plates, silverware and glasses. He has taught much of the American public about the unconscious influences that make us fat. A professor of marketing at Cornell University, he is also founder and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, which focuses on helping consumers eat more nutritiously and consciously.