Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Founder and Director
Michael Rich, MD, MPH traveled a long and winding road before founding VIA in 1994. Michael was a mountaineer, a writer, and a filmmaker before turning to medicine. During his high school years, Michael was an avid backpacker, rock climber, and winter mountaineer in New Hampshire, spending his summers in Wyoming where he was first a student, then an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In 1971, Michael climbed Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), the highest mountain in North America, spending almost two months living at high altitude in a snow cave. He graduated from Pomona College in 1977, where he double majored in English/Creative Writing and Film Studies.

While in California, Michael directed theater productions, including A Streetcar Named Desire and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and worked as the Filmmaker-in-Residence at the Robert Flaherty Study Center, where he edited unfinished footage by the pioneer documentary and ethnographic filmmaker into study films. Michael was awarded a Luce Scholarship in 1978 and went to Japan, where he studied with and served as assistant director to several of the great post-war Japanese film directors, including Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Akira Kurosawa. For Kurosawa, Michael served as assistant director on Kagemusha (1980), working closely with the acclaimed director of Rashomon and The Seven Samurai for nearly two years.

On his return to the United States, Michael worked, ironically, as a "script doctor," rewriting screenplays for production as well as developing his own feature projects (none of which were realized) and directing a PBS documentary on the sculptural environments of his friend, artist Isamu Noguchi. Michael's interest in narrative film lay in its unique power to reveal the human condition and to change hearts and minds. After working with Kurosawa and with the films of Robert Flaherty, he grew frustrated with Hollywood's focus on commercial success and its apparent lack of interest in exploring the complexities of what it means to be human. He decided to redirect his career toward another field in which he could more directly work with and improve the human condition — medicine.

After returning to college to do his pre-medical studies, Michael attended Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1991. He served his internship and residency in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston. While he was doing his fellowship training in Adolescent Medicine at Children's, he also completed a Master of Public Health degree at Harvard School of Public Health. During the clinical immersion of residency, Michael felt that many medical issues were difficult to solve because everyday human issues precluded accurate diagnosis or ideal management. Clinicians lacked knowledge of the patients' life circumstances and, conversely, patients were not engaged as partners in the healing process. His solution to this concern was to apply visual media and their unique power to reveal and to communicate. He hypothesized that if patients had the tools to originate information on their own health, they could teach their clinicians about their real needs and would acquire more ownership of their disease and its management. He set out to devise a way to give patients voice, to make them the authors of their own health outcomes. He engaged in an eclectic range of reading, from psychology to phenomenology, from anthropology to grounded theory, from qualitative analysis to documentary filmmaking, from children's studies to technical video manuals. What resulted was VIA, simple, straightforward, even obvious on its face, but built on a complex foundation of well-developed and widely respected research traditions.

To date, VIA has been applied to a variety of health conditions, from asthma to obesity to special heath care needs, resulting in a number of research papers and presentations. In 1998, Michael was honored by the Society for Adolescent Medicine with their New Investigator Award for developing and implementing VIA. Michael is currently exploring VIA's rich possibilities as educational material and as a tool for patient advocacy. He is working with the Harvard Medical School Office of Educational Development to create interactive audiovisual curricular material for medical training from the VIA visual illness narratives. He and the VIA team are currently working with producers at several of national television networks to develop these unique stories into documentaries that can inform patients and families, advocate for improved health policies, and educate the general public to the real issues faced by patients.

Cognizant of the potency of the image and of the primacy of mass media as a source of information and influence, Michael founded the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) in 2002. CMCH is an interdisciplinary center of excellence in research and education on the effects, positive and negative, of entertainment media on the physical, mental, and social health of children and adolescents. Michael has studied the influence of popular entertainment media - television, movies, music, video games, and the Internet – on young people’s violence, obesity, substance abuse, and other health risk behaviors. The goal is to identify and characterize health problems associated with media use, and to develop interventions to help children protect themselves while still using and enjoying media. As a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education, Michael authored or co-authored four policy statements on media and child health for the American Academy of Pediatrics and has written and presented testimony on media and child health to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Federal Trade Commission, the Illinois and North Carolina State Legislatures, and the Chicago City Councils.

Currently, Michael is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an Associate Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. He sees patients at the Adolescent/Young Adult Clinic at Children's Hospital Boston and Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. He is board-certified in both Pediatrics and in Adolescent Medicine. In his spare time, Michael is a scuba diver who travels the world in search of beautiful undersea places and who dives for lobster and scallops in the cold waters of New England. He is an aficionado of opera (particularly Mozart), world music (the more esoteric the better), fine wine (exclusively red), and theater (of any kind). He is the proud father of Desta, Erik, Jason and Ian, and is committed to make the world in which they grow up safer and healthier.

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