Gita Mendis is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.
You'll also find links to Gita's interview warm-up clip: Getting to know Gita in 10 questions.
Welcome to the human of healthcare edition of the Spark difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Gita Mendis. Gita – thanks for joining me.
Thanks for inviting me.
Where’s your accent from?
Where have you spent most of your working life?
In London too, I’m a North London girl, I’ve never really lived out of North London.
What do you do for work now?
I’m a Creative Director at ZPB.
Sam: And what does that mean for the person on the street?
Gita: So we do marketing, strategy, communications - we work in the health sector.
Sam: And what about before?
Gita: I was at NHS choices, so I helped launch that in 2007.
Sam: What made you decide to start working in healthcare?
Gita: So I was a journalist at the Evening Standard and I worked on the features desk, so a lot of features in those days - that were in the days that people bought newspapers - a lot of features were based around celebrities and “It Girls” and all that sort of thing and that wasn't really my bag. Health - I found really interesting because it was factual journalism and I was just fascinated by it.
Sam: What’s made you stay working in health and social care, in the industry?
Gita: This sounds kind of corny but I feel like some of stuff that we do can make a small difference to people’s lives. I was at an advertising conference quite recently and a lot of the case studies that they were about porn sites and alcohol, all sorts of and pro selling products, clever marketing and advertising but doing stuff that I just would find morally quite strange to do. But what I do like is an using really good quality design, really good copywriting, making things really interesting for you know about health. You know I feel like a good duty to do things as well as they can be done and I think that at the end of the day the end-user will benefit.
Sam: And what keeps you going?
Gita: I really love meeting people who work in health. I think people who work in the NHS are genuinely the nicest, loveliest people ever. It sort of fills you with joy when you meet and get to know these people.
I also really enjoyed meeting some people who work around the health, around the NHS that we work a lot with SMEs [Small Medium Enterprises] - health tech SMEs - and some of these guys are so passionate and got so much energy and innovation and in that case gives me a buzz. I find that really exciting.
Sam: What has working in health and/or social care meant to you?
Gita: I guess when you meet these some great clinicians and these people who achieved so much, it’s kind of humbling. It’s just really exciting working in the industry with such interesting dedicated people, doing the right thing. And I love the NHS, we’re so lucky to have it.
Sam: Thinking about a time when you or a family member used health and social care services; can you tell me about a moment when it went really well?
Gita: So my son, Sam, he’s a teenager he broke his arm a number of times. First off, he came off skateboard and then he broke his arm had an operation to fix it. Then he went broke again, in the same place and he had another operation to fix it.
They were amazing and I found that very, very stressful and while he was under having his operation and under the anesthetic and whether sitting in a cafe downstairs feeling extremely stressed but the whole team was great. It was a great experience.
Sam: What one piece of advice would you give a young professional who is just starting out on a career about how to retain their values or had a stay human in an increase increasingly stressful environment?
Gita: Well I think it's really important to be kind and respectful, with the people you're working with, working for and you come up against. Which can be hard if you're a stressful situation but you know it's this just about being a decent person I think.
You know do you best, give yourself the time to look at your work and make it better. I always think that’s very important.
Sam: A slightly different question, can you tell me about the most emotionally challenging period of your career, so it could be a moment or it could be a longer period of time.
Gita: I remember when I had my first child. So that was in the 90s, that was in 1999 and I was working at Evening Standard. First of my friends and colleagues of my age group to have a child, it was an accident (…sorry Sam). I went back to work, straight after maternity leave I think it was probably within six months. And just because that’s what I did - I worked full time I went straight back to work and that was properly exhausting.
I found that a massive strain, I felt quite isolated and I felt different from the rest of my colleagues and had my breasts leaking in the news room and I had to go back to spending the nights looking after a very small child and then coming in. I was very hard on myself I think and that was really, really tough.
Sam: What did you learn from that time?
Gita: Well I got pregnant pretty soon after that, so I had my second child 16 months after the first and then I kind of gave myself a bit of a break and went back to work – took a bit longer maternity leave, went back to work, part time and things kind of fell into place.
I had known now that you had to rush back to work. But that was all I knew – nobody was advising me any different.
Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?
Gita: It’s quite interesting to see the politics of healthcare service. It's quite a political world, getting people together - literally getting people in same room and talking is incredibly beneficial and things can really move forward, when that happens. I think when a lot of people work in their own sort of ivory towers and get cross you with what they perceive other areas of the health service doing wrong, or doing differently, when actually we are all just people, just trying to get through the day, doing as good a job as we possibly can. And then when we meet people and get to know them it really, really helps.
Sam: Thinking about the people you've worked with and for over the years and all of the people that you've helped, who has had the greatest impact on you?
Gita: I had a really amazing editor at the Evening Standard. She was a features editor – and in fact, all of the features editors. There was an amazing professionalism that when you work in newspapers, it’s quite unbelievable the professionalism, the adherence to deadlines, the high quality work and people working very, very quickly and in big teams. So that has always stayed with me.
I think that has been really important. I actually found I really love working under pressure and if you put your mind to it, you can achieve a huge amount and very quickly. So those sorts of professional skills have just stayed with me and it’s an absolutely amazing, when you see a newsroom working in full flow it’s very exciting.
Sam: I really enjoyed our conversation today. We’ve gone through over a range of different topics - is there anything that coming to the surface that you’re reflecting now that you may not have last week or a couple months ago - any final thoughts?
Gita: What is important to me and some of the places I've worked at have reinforced, this is the idea of information and transparency and putting it together in a way that people can understand it. By people I mean, absolutely anybody. I think it's the way companies need to behave, I think it’s the way the NHS needs to behave, certainly government.
I really think that presenting information in a transparent and honest way is really important. I think it’s important for the NHS because they can learn lessons from what they're doing right and what they’re doing wrong and others in the NHS can look learn from that.
The other thing I think is really important is using really good clear language in everything you do and trying to present things and making an effort to present things simply and attractively I think is really, really important.
Sam: I think patient engagement can often be done in a tokenistic way. So how do we start to have a meaningful dialogue with people – so not just patients, carers, anyone that is involved in health and social care? Have you had experience with that?
Gita: A very public thing that NHS did - NHS Choices did - was to give the right to reply for anybody to post comments and feedback on NHS services. So if you go on NHS Choices you can see what people have said about their experience, use star ratings. It’s very open and transparent. The way that the NHS engages with patients to get feedback can be a tiny bit tokenistic and isn’t terribly thorough.
I do find that whenever we do a project that will involve patients, we do try and get people to do as many interviews as possible. I really love doing those interviews. You get so much insight into their lives and the things that matter to them. I think it’s very, very important that the NHS continue to try and engage with patients as much as possible.
Sam: And thinking about those interviews, and without giving names or specifics, has there been one that’s really lingered with you?
Gita: Well, only this week I was editing a story where we interviewed a patient who was having chemotherapy treatment at home. And he’s had chemotherapy for three years but he’s had all the treatment at home, with the same team of nurses and it’s made an incredible difference to his life.
I think that has just made the whole experience for him much better than it would have if he had to travel into hospital every time. So that was just one of our clients who does an amazing thing for people and it’s those stories that really bring that to life.
Sam: Thank you so much for your time today Gita, I really enjoyed it and thank you all for listening.
Gita: Thank you.