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WPC 2023 Speakers


Eric Rubin

Eric Rubin has been Editor-in-Chief at the New England Journal of Medicine since 2019 after serving as
an Associate Editor for several years. He is an infectious disease physician at the Brigham and Women’s
Hospital and a tuberculosis researcher at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Eric holds an AB degree from Harvard College and MD and PhD degrees from Tufts University. He was a
resident and clinical fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard
Medical School. Eric was the Irene Heinz Given Professor and Chair of the Department of Immunology
and Infectious Disease before joining NEJM full time but continues to do lab work at the Harvard Chan
School. He is Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Adjunct Professor at the Harvard
TH Chan School of Public Health. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a member
of the National Academy of Medicine.


Francis Collins

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., currently serves as the Special Advisor to President Biden for Special Projects. In this role, he is leading a bold program to help eliminate Hepatitis C in the United States. Prior to this, he served as the Acting Science Advisor to President Biden, steering the administration’s plans and programs to advance scientific solutions to humanity’s needs, especially for health issues. In that role, he worked closely with Dr. Alondra Nelson, the former Acting Director of the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP). Dr. Collins also maintains his longstanding position as a Senior Investigator in the intramural program of the National Human Genome Research Institute, pursuing genomics research on type 2 diabetes and a rare disorder of premature aging called progeria.

Dr. Collins previously served as the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2009. In 2017, President Donald Trump asked Dr. Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. President Joe Biden did the same in 2021. For those 12 years, serving an unprecedented three administrations, Dr. Collins oversaw the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research. Dr. Collins stepped down as Director on December 19, 2021.


Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his previous leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Dr. Collins is an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. In 2020, he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (UK) and was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity.


Gail Christopher

Dr. Gail Christopher is an award winning social change agent with expertise in the social determinants of health and well-being and in related public policies. She is known for her pioneering work to infuse holistic health and diversity concepts into public sector programs and policy discourse. Dr. Christopher recently retired from her role as Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where she was the driving force behind the America Healing initiative and the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation effort. Dr. Christopher also served as Kellogg’s Vice President for Program Strategy and worked on place-based programming in New Orleans and New Mexico. In 1996 she was elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. In 2015 she received the Terrance Keenan Award from Grantmakers in Health. She currently chairs the Board of the Trust for America’s Health. In 2019, she became a Senior Scholar with George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Dr. Gail Christopher also became the Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity in 2019. In 2021, Dr. Christopher was elected by the APHA Governing Council to serve as the APHA Honorary Vice President for the United States.


Vafa Akhavan

Vafa Akhavan’s career spans 7 industries across 14 countries. Half his career has been in boutique management consulting and half in operating roles. His experience covers the front line to the executive suite.  He has lived in 4 countries and 8 cities. Vafa’s cumulative operating experience includes leading operations in more than 15 cities around the world.


Vafa currently serves as the CEO of World Pediatric Project (WPP), a non-profit organization focused on tertiary pediatric care in underserved countries. With over 20 years of service, WPP works with the most vulnerable of the vulnerable pediatric population covering 15 specialties and subspecialties, notably in cardiology and orthopedics. 


Previously, Vafa was President at NueBridge, a boutique general management consulting firm. He served as Executive Board member at SwissVBS, a digital learning platform acquired by BTS. Prior, he was CEO at the Forum Corporation, a L&D consulting firm, now Achieve Forum, a unit of Korn Ferry. Before Vafa was Vice President Global Operations at McGraw Hill’s Information and Media segment. He moved there after McGraw Hill acquired J.D. Power where he served as Executive Director, Global Solutions.  


Vafa serves on the Board of Directors for Children Believe, as well as the governance and finance committees, a non-profit organization focused on primary health and education of children in underserved countries. Vafa is also a Senior Faculty member at the Schulich Executive Education Center, Schulich Business School, York University in Toronto.


Emilian Popa

Emilian is on a mission to enable people to live healthier and longer lives, delivered via breakthrough technologies and often at a fraction of what treatments and diagnostics cost today. Passionate about prevention and early detection of diseases, focused on helping people achieve optimum physical and mental well-being and performance, through allowing individuals to access the latest technology to take care of every aspect of their health (movement, nutrition, cognitive and recovery) based on a personalized plan that is validated by the latest science. Avid biohacker. Founder and CEO of ILARA Health, a high tech point of care diagnostics venture which aims to democratize access to diagnostics across developing markets.

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Deforia Lane

Deforia Lane, PhD., MT-BC, music therapy clinician and researcher, began her career with children and young adults with developmental disabilities and those on the autism spectrum.  For 35 years she was Director of Art & Music Therapy for University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio where she started the program in the hospital's Cancer Center and expanded it throughout the 1000-bed teaching hospital. She created and taught the first music therapy course at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and continues to advocate for music therapy in such venues as the National Institutes of Health Sound Health Initiative.

Dr. Lane has been privileged to serve patients as a music therapist in multiple settings: mental health clinics, medical-surgical and intensive care units, in the operating room, outpatient clinic and at bedside. She has lectured throughout the US as well as Kenya, Japan, China, England, Canada and Taiwan. She is an honorary member of the Oncology Nurse Society, has mentored over 80 music therapy interns, authored Music as Medicine, (Zondervan Press). Since her retirement in 2018 she has enjoyed serving on PNC's Grow Up Great Advisory Counsel, supervising music therapy students at Cleveland State University and consulting with healthcare and academic institutions across the country. 

Dr. Lane still marvels at the wonder and transformative power of music.


Jill Sonke

Jill Sonke, PhD, is research director in the Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida (UF), director of national research and impact for the One Nation/One Project initiative, and co-director of the EpiArts Lab, a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab. She is an affiliated faculty member in the UF School of Theatre & Dance, the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, the Center for African Studies, the STEM Translational Communication Center, and the One Health Center, and is an editorial board member for Health Promotion Practice journal, and served in the pandemic as a senior advisor to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team on the COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Task Force. 

With 27+ years of experience and leadership in the field of arts in health, Jill is active in research, teaching, and international cultural exchange. She is a mixed methods researcher with a current focus on population-level health outcomes associated with arts and cultural participation, arts in public health, and the arts in health communication. She is the recipient of a New Forms Florida Fellowship Award, a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship Award, a NISOD Excellence in Teaching Award, a UF Internationalizing the Curriculum Award, a UF Most Outstanding Service Learning Faculty Award, a UF Public Health Champions award, a UF Cross-Campus Faculty Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and over 350 grants for her programs and research at the University of Florida.

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Ruth Cuthand

Ruth Cuthand is a Canadian mixed media artist of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry whose practice includes painting, drawing, photography and beadwork. Born in 1954 in Saskatchewan, she grew up in Alberta, where as a child she met artist Gerald Tailfeathers, who inspired her to become an artist herself. Through her anti-aesthetic stance, her work challenges mainstream perspectives of colonialism and the relationships between settlers and Indigenous people in a practice marked by a delicate balance of political invective and humour. Ruth is widely considered an influential feminist artist of the Canadian prairies and is lauded for her unflinching interpretation of racism and colonialism.

Ruth’s work is featured in many collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the MacKenzie Art Gallery. In 2020, she was a recipient of the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. In 2013, she was recognized with a Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award. Ruth lives and works in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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Wendy Bryan Lazar

I Heart Guts organ plush toys are the brainchild of Wendy Lazar, an anatomically-obsessed illustrator who loves human organs and all they do. Our organ toys help people laugh in the face of illness, bringing humor and healing together with science and art. The perfect gift for everything from a broken heart to a tummy ache, our colorful organs will steal your heart, tickle your funny bone and maybe even make you pee in your pants.

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