Gita's story

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.

Andrew's story

Andrew Kinglake 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 a link to Andrew's interview warm-ups below: Getting to know Andrew in 10 questions.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Andrew Kinglake. Andrew, thanks for joining me.

Andrew: Thank you.

Sam: Where’s your accent from?

Andrew: From the home counties of Buckinghamshire. It can change according to where I am in the country as well.

Sam: Where have you spent most of your working life?

Andrew: Based in London, I was out in Hertfordshire for a while but based in London.

Sam: What do you do for work now?

Andrew: Information security and governance.

Sam: And what does that mean for the person on the street?

Andrew: To the person on the street it means protecting their information appropriately and making it available, wherever possible and wherever appropriate.

Sam: How long have you been doing that for?

Andrew: Over 15 years now, I never thought I’d do it that long. When someone bends over my desk and says, ‘sort out this data protection thing for me, please.’

Sam: What made you decide to start working in health and social care?

Andrew: Initially it was just another job really and after a while it made me realise that I was interested in it. So I spent some time working in an NHS Trust, then worked outside healthcare and then back in healthcare. I’ve actually recently made the decision that healthcare is something that really interests me and I want to return to, which I’m lucky to be able to do again in a few weeks' time.

Sam: What’s made you stay, why do you keep coming back?

Andrew: Two things really – one, in my sort of role it's quite difficult to think you’re making, or could help make a difference to an individual person - working in other areas, working in the financial services area – it's just very much more about protecting the organisation as well and making money for the organisation. Whereas I think in healthcare there's a real opportunity to try and transform the profession a bit as well. To make it one where the average person on the street - their information is treated in the way that they would expect, not just protecting it but also making it available and accessible across the boundaries; the artificial boundaries that there are in healthcare.

I know that when my family has been ill, I don’t want someone asking me for consent all those times, I just want the treatment done and everything else to be done in the background. So I guess that’s the thing that hopefully I can help in a small way.

Sam: And what keeps you going, ‘cause I can’t imagine it being an easy role?

Andrew: I think it is, in a way - because its one of the few roles in which you get to talk and know and have great input across the organisation. There are things that are very different each day and you are also have conversations with very different levels of the organisation.

Sam: What has working in health and social care services meant to you?

Andrew: I think it's opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a real broad range of people inputting into the health and social care space and there’s an importance for each and every one of those roles. It’s not just the front line care staff, it’s the fact that there are other people supporting them in that background trying to make it as easy as possible. Again that is something I hope I can do - help to enable those who are delivering the direct front line care to do their job as easily as possible without all the extra work.

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me about a time when things went really well?

Andrew: Yeah, so me. I walked to the doctors after I’d been moaned at for a week. So I walked a mile and half to the doctors. I said that I sort of had this little bit of chest pain since last year. They took me in and did the ECG, etc.

Then someone said, "you actually need to go off to hospital and we’re really sorry, but we’ve just called an ambulance for an old lady so you’re going to be a bit delayed”.

It was late by just couple minutes - not a problem what so ever. I was thinking, well there’s not actually really anything really wrong with me for all of this.

And within probably an hour and a half I was on an operating table at one of the heart hospitals and they did an investigation. Thankfully, they found that there was absolutely nothing wrong – it was a virus. But the treatment I got at that time was excellent really. It was really good. And quite apart from anything else, they kept feeding us tea and biscuits every half an hour which was phenomenal. I’ve never eaten so well.

Sam: The bit that’s sticking to me was that you walked a mile and a half to the doctors.

Andrew: Yeah it wasn’t really a problem at all, I think they were just panicking.

Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your healthcare career?

Andrew: I think probably stick with it. Don’t keep jumping in and out. Actually get yourself much more integrated with a lot of the activity that’s going on.

Sam: What does that look like?

Andrew: So I think, you know, really make that conscious decision early on that if you wish to do some work in healthcare, to not keep doing different bits of work in and out of healthcare. So that it’s consistent employment and you’re able to get to know a lot of people within that arena.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, can you please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment of your career?

Andrew: So its not scary now, but one of the most scary thing is - I was used to give presentations to small groups of people and then stood up in front of 300 people after having done a presentation to sort of 10 before, and I was really young at that time and sticks in my mind as one of the most scary times that I put myself out in an uncomfortable environment.

Sam: How did you get through it?

Andrew: As quickly as possible. Absolutely.

Sam: You were like a train track, speeding along.

Andrew: Absolutely. The 10 minute session was 5 minutes I think.

Sam: Your audience may have appreciated that.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Andrew: I guess everyone is a person. I know it sounds really benign, but actually everyone should have the same amount of respect and the same amount of care, no matter who they are and their background.

Sam: Thinking about all of the people you have worked with and for over the years and all the people you have helped along the way who has had the greatest impact on you?

Andrew: Wow. I worked in same organisation as my wife for a while, so I should probably say her. But, apart from her…

Do you know the people I think probably that had the greatest impact - have changed me - are the people who are really struggling to work and have families as well and to balance that out; to just understand the challenges that they have got for that and the pressures that they feel that they’re not being successful that either side of what they are doing. So it’s not one person it’s a variety of people. That’s really change my outlook I think.

Sam: In what way?

Andrew: I think originally, many years ago – I’d have been very much in the camp, and just said ‘tough you’re here to work, get on with it’ and no sort of have empathy or understanding of that.

Sam: What have you had to work hardest at to be a success at your job?

Andrew: Well, I guess that’s from the starting point that am I a success? That I have done anything of success in the first place?

Sam: Oh Andrew!

Andrew: That’s open for a bit of debate. Let’s say that maybe in a few more years, we can look back and do that.

I think probably for me, it’s not wanting to do things too quickly and having to temper that as well. Particularly in different environments and really understanding the pace that the organisation is working at. Trying to push it a bit, trying to push it along - but realising that the world’s not going to change in a fortnight. Which is quite good if you go on holiday for a fortnight, you know when you come back, nothing will have changed fundamentally.

It can be quite a challenge and it’s quite a challenge for me to maintain energy as well, if it’s quite a slow pace.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope people you have worked with, remember you for?

Andrew: Just being relatively friendly and engaging and OK to get on in a workplace. I think that’s the lasting memory I’d like for people to have and that sort of respect about you and what you do and what you achieve in your role as well. In my role I think that's really important because most people think it's incredibly dull and you can be the ‘no’ person who sits in the corner, so those interpersonal relationships make things a success are really important.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more.

Sam: Is there anything that has come up in the course of our conversation that you are reflecting on now, that perhaps half an hour ago wasn’t front of mind?

Andrew: I think it’s always quite a challenge for me talking about what I want to do, how I want to achieve it itself and that period of reflection. So it’s really good to do this sort of thing and have these sort of conversations to really understand and to reflect on why I’m really wanting to do something; why I want to work in a particular area and the sort of role I’d like to do as well.

So think that’s quite challenge and probably one I’ll go away and think about and sob into my cup of tea tonight.

Sam: I’ve been speaking to some clinicians and they've been talking about the importance having built in reflection time into their careers. They have to do appraisals and some were saying we often don’t take this seriously enough and that’s such a big shame because that reflection time - that learning - is giving you the direction of where you want to go. So we were discussing is that a responsibility of an organisation or a system to help give you that time and space, or does it come down to the individual?

Andrew: To me it’s a personal responsibility. I think in my experience the systems around the appraisals can get terribly bureaucratic - as can anything that’s developed by someone with a passion in that area, they develop it for themselves rather than people being applied against.

In appraisals I normally have a much more light weight version if I was designing it. Hopefully this is not offending too many HR people.
There’s that space for that personal reflection as well. If that’s prompted by work that’s excellent, but I do think we all need our own personal responsibility to think about it ourselves.

Sam: Thank you very much for your time today Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you.

Sam: And thank you all for listening.

Vita's story

Vita Akstinaite 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 Vita's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Vita in 10 questions and (2) Vita's drawing challenge.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Vita Akstinaite. Vita, thank you for joining me.

Vita: Thanks for having me Sam

Sam: So firstly, where’s your accent from?

Vita: I’m Lithuanian.

Sam: Lithuanian. And for those who didn't do so well in geography in school, where is that on a map?

Vita: That is in East Europe, in between Poland and Russia and below Finland.

Sam: Where have you spent most of your working life?

Vita: I worked in several countries. Mainly in Lithuania, afterwards I spent some time in Italy and Greece and the last couple of years in the UK, London.

Sam:What do you do for work now?

Vita: I’m a BI project manager, that mainly delivers technology projects for the healthcare sector.

Sam: And what is BI?

Vita: Business intelligence - so bringing technology into healthcare to help innovate certain things, that are a bit behind at the moment.

Sam: What made you decide to start working in healthcare?

Vita: I suppose that is one of the industries where we have quite a lot of issues that are being escalated a lot and often. I have always been a person who likes to change things; likes to help to improve things, so I suppose, gradually I gravitated towards working in a field where I can make a change.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give the young professional just starting out in their career about how to retain their values or how to stay human in an increasingly stressed environment?

Vita: I'll steal an answer from you - from Spark the Difference actually. I think exactly what this exhibition is trying to do, which is collect stories; tell stories to other people.

I think that's exactly what keeps you grounded. That is something that makes you think about things - that makes you stick to your values. I think it is very, very important keep doing that throughout the years of your work, because sometimes we become a piece of some organisation and we start to forget that there are lots of people who have very interesting stories. So my advice would be listen to those stories.

Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself if you are starting out again on your healthcare career.

Vita: Don't get frustrated too easily. Sometimes it is very hard and especially with my personality. I want things to work, I want to make things happen, I want that to happen now and here and sometimes you have to be patient.

Sometimes you have to stop being frustrated and start doing things from scratch, however annoying or frustrating that might be. Be patient and don't get frustrated.

Sam: And I can see it is a fine line isn’t it between having the patience for things to happen in their own time versus the drive to keep things going?

Vita: Absolutely, absolutely. I think you’re walking the thin line and you’re stepping one side or another.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, can you please tell me about the scariest darkest or most challenging moment of your career?

Vita: It's been a year or a year and a half ago, I moved to work for Technology Company and I mainly worked for the biggest consulting company on healthcare projects in London. So we were doing quite a lot of work with patients and bringing innovation in certain fields across UK.

It was very, very challenging because we were constantly experiencing people who were demotivat[ed] in achieving things.

Bureaucracy - that I could not believe how slowly things might move in the healthcare industry, especially when I was coming from business where things move fast, you know - time is money and here you had to be patient.

You have to be constantly pushing for things. That meant that we had to work 24/7 to make the project happen.

It was a very, very hard period, it was a very dark period. We made it happen eventually, but it was a journey not a sprint but a marathon I suppose.

Sam: How did you get through that time?

Vita: I was thinking about end result.

When you work 24/7 and there are lots of frustrating things coming up and there are a lot of challenges and obstacles you sometimes forget why are you doing this. What’s the point of all of this?

You just want to leave. Leave it all and find something that is easier, nicer, lighter. But at that moment I was thinking if we eventually make this happen, that would be a big impact. It will be an impact not only citywide, it will be a nationwide impact and that motivated me. I try to remind myself to keep going for the end result and outcome.

Sam: A slightly different question - can you tell me about the most emotionally challenging period of your career - that might be an individual moment or it might be a longer period of time?

Vita: We were organising quite a lot of events with people with IG professionals with different patient groups. That meant that we met so many people who were telling these stories, who were experiencing certain issues or problems with their healthcare and that’s what made them come to these events and strive for some sort of outcome.

It was quite emotionally challenging for me because my initial background was in business where people are very closed. They don't tell the stories they just do whatever they do and don't talk to each other.

And suddenly I was among people who were willing to tell what their experience was, even if that was some very emotional and private experiences - who were telling their stories and that was quite hard at the beginning for me just because I felt the weight of all that.

It made you think what can you do to help, all these people? There are so many things I knew that there are many but now I know millions. What do I do next? How do how to we make this work quickly - like now?

That was quite challenging - how do you cope with all these emotional things?

Sam: What did you learned from that time?

Vita: You need to embrace that. You can’t just leave it, you can’t just step aside because then it will just all fall of. You need to embrace it. You need to be strong, talk and work and collaborate with other people. And actually when there are quite a few people who are aiming towards the same goal, that's actually what makes things happen.

Sam: Thinking about a time when you or a family member have used health or social care services - can you tell me what went really well?

Vita: My grandmother was in hospital recently for quite long period of time. She had a blood disorder and also Alzheimer's that made things worse. And the care we got from nurses was amazing. They were really putting themselves out there.

She was not the easiest patient ever. It was very hard to work with person who slowly stops seeing the world around them. So the care from nurses that was something brilliant.

Sam: Small things can make a big difference. Has there been a time when a small act made you feel valued and respected?

Vita: I was doing a project with kids with mental health disorders a few years ago.

What I noticed was that actually adults were more scared than kids themselves because the only thing they wanted was actually being hugged and loved and you being there with them, playing.

These were kids in a kid’s home. While adults at the beginning were a bit scared because these kids had certain mental health problems. They might not - some of them were not able to communicate properly, or some of them they looked slightly scary for some adults.

But simply that child coming and hugging you and being grateful not for those presents that you brought but simply because you're there - you know with him or her, that was really touching.

Sam: What have you had to work hardest at to be a success in your job?

Vita: Patience.

When I started I had no patience. I still have very little, but it was a constant struggle. I want to make things work quickly – now, here. I want people to be as passionate about things as for example I am about those things. I want things to go smoothly. I want things to be up to a high degree of quality and perfection and it was a constant struggle trying to pace myself and understanding that sometimes you need to be patient that things will happen and that other people might have the own pace and that we will all go to as a same goal just in different ways.

Sam: And what helped?

Vita: Making mistakes, making mistakes.

When you push too hard or you push other people too hard, or nothing is happening and you understand that actually the problem is not you not pushing enough - the problem is you pushing too much.

Sam: That’s very insightful.

Final question - we’ve had a very deep and interesting conversation, has anything come up to the surface for you that perhaps you haven’t reflected on before, or recently? Any final thoughts?

Vita: Working hard pays off eventually.

Sometimes it is very hard to see that at the beginning, because it all looks like a struggle like a battlefield with no way out – but, putting the effort, that energy into something that you believe in, it works.

It does work. It might take a week, a month, years, but it will get there eventually along us people are passionate about whatever they are doing.

Sam: Thank you so much for your time Vita and thanks for listening.

Vita: Thank you Sam, it’s been a pleasure

Ranisha's story

Ranisha Dhamu 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 Ranisha's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Ranisha in 10 questions and (2) Ranisha's drawing challenge.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Ranisha Dhamu. Ranisha, thanks for joining me.

Ranisha: Thank you.

Sam: Where’s your accent from?

Ranisha: London. North West London

Sam: What do you do for work now?

Ranisha: At the moment I’m on a secondment working for the Local Government Association. And working on pioneers, the health pioneer work that is going on - working with NHS and Department of Health and just working on Informatics.

Sam: For the person on the street, what’s a health pioneer site?

Ranisha: The NHS and Department of Health have said that by 2020 they want to digitalise health and social care. In the last 2-3 years there have been 25 pioneer sites being brought up, where health and social care are working together to try and improve the integration between the two different authorities. I work on the Informatics part just to make sure that data, IT, all of that, is working where we can help.

Sam: What were you doing before that?

Ranisha: I’m an information governance officer for the London Borough of Brent.

I help Brent making sure that the citizens data is safe, that we make sure that we share information between us and other local authorities or other organisations - safely, securely and appropriately. I deal with any data breaches. I did a lot of Subject Access Requests where the public would write in and ask for their information. So making sure they get the right information.

Sam: What has working in health and social care services meant to you?

Ranisha: Me personally, I’ve got cerebral palsy - I was born with cerebral palsy. Working in health and social care has actually opened my eyes to how it actually all works on the inside. You see the bad press; you never see the good press. You always see bad press and you think ‘really is that how it works?’

But being on the inside, it gives you a different view to it, altogether. So for me, it’s helped me with my personal life and I think what we’re doing is helping the public. Well, hopefully it will help the public in the right way.

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me that time when it didn't go so well?

Ranisha: When I was born they had to use forceps to deliver me and because they used the forceps there was a lack of oxygen to my head for literally 30 - 40 seconds, if that. And that’s what caused my cerebral palsy.

And obviously both my parents had arrived in England in ’71 and I was born in ’73. So they were still pretty new and they had only come over here because they got kicked out of Uganda because of Idi Amin. And my mum thought there was something wrong with me - obviously English wasn’t her first language and would rely on my father to help her.

She always said to him, ‘there’s something not right, there’s something not right, there’s something not right.’

She'd mentioned it and he would bring it up to health service. And they said ‘no no no there is nothing wrong with her’ because they couldn’t physically see anything wrong with me as a baby. But as I started moving and walking they realised because I had a limp. So it took them a good two to three years before anybody actually physically did anything about it. And that's because they could physically see that there was something wrong with me. I don’t know if it would a difference.

My mum blames the way they delivered me. So when I had my babies, she could go frantic making sure it went ok. She was very scared of that and I think, I don’t think she’s ever gotten over that.

I need a hip replacement but they keep pushing me off, because I’m too young. So I've got to deal with the pain. I’ve got a walking stick now, which has been hard. It’s taken me a good year to get used to it. I feel uncomfortable because of my children - you know, trying to explain to them why Mum’s like this. But they have been really, really good. Not once have they ever questioned, 'why do you limp, or why do you shake'. Which just shows how well they have been brought up, to be honest.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give to young professional who is just starting out on their career about how to retain their values or how to stay human in an increasingly stressed and difficult environment?

Ranisha: Always follow what you believe in. You know if you feel passionate about something and you think no this is the way it should be and you really believe it should be. Don’t digress from it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you believe in, what you read.

Form your own opinions. Don’t get waylaid with multi-media and all the rest. There’s so much stuff out; they are so negative. People do not talk about the positive things that are happening. Go out and look for the positive 'cause that will help you overcome the negatives and never give up.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment in your career.

Ranisha: I grew up being bullied and all the rest of it. For me, I learnt - I sound strong, but deep down I’m still quite soft. But I’ve learnt to ignore people and just pick up – I had a situation before I went to Brent, I had a temporary job at a lawyer’s office. When I turned up there, they had me climbing ladders and all the rest of it… so they weren’t paperless!

They actually refused to pay the agency that I came from because they hadn’t notified them of my disability. I’m not registered disabled, so as far as I am concerned I’m not disabled. I didn’t see it as a disability, the agency didn’t see it as a disability. It went to court. They ended up paying out.

It was quite a hard time for me, because it was a bit of a reality check for me because it got me to think it wasn’t just school that I got this negativity and people bullying. It actually happens in your adult life as well. It was a reality check that I’ve got to toughen up.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Ranisha: They're very different. Very, very different kettle of fish. Health and social care in itself is very different people. There are caring people in both sectors but I feel - see I have my social care hat on and 'cause I’ve tried to work with health and various different things and it’s never worked well and it’s all been issues.

I feel social care is like the poor relative. That’s what it makes me feel like. That you’re there - you’re not that important. But when we want something from you, we want it from you straight away. That’s how social care feels about health. That needs to change.

I did think that when they put the Health and Social Care Information center together I thought, ‘Oh yes we’re going to make a difference now’, ‘cause you had social care in the description. But it was officially announced last week that they were going to be renamed, NHS Digital. So ok, they have taken the social care out of it all together. How are you expecting to be integrated in digital in 2020, when you’re really struggling to get social care on board with anything here?

They’re willing to do it, but you’re asking them to do things without giving them the funding - putting health first. I don’t know how it’s going to – it will work, I’m sure it will, but its things like that, that make you think - hmm really?

Sam: What have you had to work hardest at to be a success in your job?

Ranisha: I think being an Asian woman. Being an Asian woman and having my health issues. I think when people first look at you, they think, ‘is she going to be ok, is she capable - is she going to be able to perform or get things done?’.

So for me, to get over that barrier I think I’ve pushed myself, more - to work harder, to prove myself. Which I really shouldn’t have to. People should just take me for as I am, but that’s made me a stronger person.

I went into the IT department and its male orientated. I was told to go to the Information Security Forum for London for the first time. I walked in and thought it would be fine. There was a room full of 30 people. Out of the 30 people, there were only three women and one of them was me.

I felt like, ‘Oh my God. What am I doing here? Why am I here?

But no, ‘you can do this’ and I sat there. I still go. I’m still there. and there’s more women there. None of them ever looked at us in a strange way, but it was that, first, ‘why am I here?’.

Sam: I went to high school in the ‘90s and we had all the bumper stickers there ‘Girls can do anything’ and so I was really brought up in that mentality - women can do anything. I find it quite shocking that in 2016 we’re having a conversation where you’re noticing you’re one of three women in a room full of guys.

Ranisha: I even updated my status with that - ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’

I think I’m actually really fortunate that my parents forced me and my brothers to educate ourselves. For my Mum, it wasn’t about stay at home, cooking having a family and the rest of it. It was go out there - study hard - make something of yourself, so you don’t have the struggles we had. There were other girls I went to school with, they were never pushed. With them pushing us, I did manage to get through school, through college, though university and now working.

Not once have they ever said - when I had the boys, my Mum was like, ‘I will look after them if you need to go back to work. You need to go back to work, you can’t stay at home. You need to progress your career.

So I was very, very fortunate that I had parents that pushed me to make something of myself.

Sam: Thank you Ranisha’s parents.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope that the people who have worked with you remember you for?

Ranisha: Fun, happy going, hard working person that I am. I’ve made some very good friends through my career - people I don’t actually work with anymore but are still friends. I don’t think you should do a job if you’re not happy doing it. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, get out. Don’t be there just for the sake of the money worth. You need to be able to be passionate and enjoy what you do.

Sam: Has anything come up to the surface for you just after our discussion? Or perhaps you have reflective on something now that you hadn’t a couple weeks or months ago?

Ranisha: Actually what I have realised is that what I am doing is actually impacting – you know its small, it's minute, but there’s big changes coming and I’m going to be a big part of that change, helping to be part of that change. And hoping it will open new doors for me as well. It was a move. I made a bold move. I will see what else is out there for me.

Whatever I do is going to have an impact on my family. I want them to see that Mum’s a strong professional and want to them to think, ‘yeah, we want to do the same’.

Sam: I have absolutely no doubt that your boys will be able to see that so clearly. And you will inspire not just the men in your house in their lives, but so many people around you.

Thank you so very much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for inviting me into your home for this session today.

Ranisha: No problem. Thank you.

Mark's story - Part 2

Dr Mark Davies is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Mark's interview is published in two parts. You can listen Part 1 of Mark's interview here. The recording and transcript of Part 2 is below. You'll also find links to Mark's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Mark in 10 questions and (2) Mark's drawing challenge.

Mark: So the reason I got upset, is ‘cause I haven’t thought about her for years and years and years and years, I hadn’t really reflected on that.

And when you - when I started talking about it - I remember she was teaching me, teaching me as I was doing it. She was lovely. And her husband was a management consultant working in the health service. When she died, he left the house and never went back.

Sam: Too hard?

Mark: Yeah. I got a letter about 10 years later, just a really nice letter, saying he was having a nice life, met someone else and all that kind of stuff.

Sam: Did you reply?

Mark: No.

Sam: Why?

Mark: Quite often people broadcast to clinicians. They’re not expecting something back – they’re putting something out. I thought he was broadcasting, not want to exchange. Might have been wrong, but you make a judgment.

Sam: Why do you think they broadcast?

Mark: I think it’s cathartic, I was a personification of his wife’s passing. I had been there at the point of her dying. For him, I was a part of that death; a part of - those moments that he lost the woman that he loved.

Saying he was doing all right and was moving on - to me, I felt was him saying that to himself.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so - and that is the clause here - if you feel comfortable to do so, please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment of your career?

Mark: One of the hardest points in my career, was around the death of a child.

The parents who brought the child in to see me, on the night before. The child had a temperature but didn't have any other signs that I thought indicated a significant illness. I had explained to them what they should do if the child got worse and various other things.

I came into work the following morning to receive a message that the child had subsequently died later on that day, in an intensive care unit.

That was very difficult and there was a lot of self-doubt, on my part around my own clinical skills and had I done anything wrong.

I have to say my colleagues were amazing during that time and enormously supportive – both my colleagues in hospital and in general practice; and in fact, the family were very supportive as well.

But no, I think that was the darkest period I had to go through.

If you start to doubt your own skills, then what right have you got to be there, caring for people? So that's a difficult thing when you start to feel that you are not sure the skills that you have trained and honed and practiced and improved over time are all up to scratch. It's a terrible responsibility.

Sam: Can you tell me about the most emotionally challenging period? So it may be an individual moment or over a longer period of time.

Mark: A difficult time for me is when I stopped being a doctor. I spent 25 years being a GP.

I done it so long it became who I was, it was part of my identity. Even now when I don’t practice, people say what do you do; I often say I am a general practitioner. Just – if I don’t know them very well, it’s an easy thing to say.

And letting that go and taking what I thought was a brave step of doing something different - that was, a bit of a stretch, that was a bit of a difficult thing. It was described to a friend of mine as me letting my safety blanket down, which I thought was a good way of describing it. So yes, that was a challenging time for me.

Sam: And it's only been a relatively recent period hasn't it?

Mark: A couple years ago, yeah.

Sam: What have you learned from that?

Mark: I think that is a really good question. I think what I have learnt is that there are lots of different ways of touching people's lives. Although medicine is incredibly intense and tangible, there are other ways of touching people's lives that are less visible, but can be more profound and larger scale. Seeing that and experiencing that has been very reassuring.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Mark: It's exposed me to the most miraculous variation in our species. My goodness we're a varied bunch. People's reactions to adversity are constantly surprising and amazing and it brings out sometimes the very worst in people - and sometimes the very, very, very best in people.

Seeing that is both inspiring and challenging and exciting.

Sam: Thinking about the people you’ve worked with and for over the year, and all of the people who've helped you along the way - who has had the greatest impact on?

Mark: I remember working with a consultant surgeon, when I worked up in Manchester, who - I was amazed by the level of personal commitment that he gave his patients.

So he would come into the hospital every day - Saturday and Sunday - to see all patients who are under his care. He knew their histories and what was going on with them far better than I did as I was what was called then the House Officer.

And I was amazed at his ability to hold in his head all the facts and figures and results that were going on for his patients in a way that I struggled to. So that was very impressive. But the thing that was really inspiring about him was his drive for professional excellence.

He studied and worked and honed his technique and was on this constant, aggressive drive of self-improvement. And seeing that drive to technical and knowledge improvement in the context of a deep humanity and a deep interest in people – being able to combine those two things - for me, he epitomised a lot of what was good about clinicians and certainly he's been someone that I've aspired to.

Sam: What kind of surgeon was he?

Mark: Well, he was what was then referred to as a general surgeon – they don’t even exist anymore. It seems amazing to say it now, but he did all sort of things. A lot of thyroid surgery, breast surgery, bowel surgery - people don't do that anymore.

Sam: They don’t make them like they used to.

Mark: They don’t make them like that anymore.

It was very funny actually because he had an essential tremor so his hand shook, which used to…

Sam: Is that funny?

Mark: Well it used to make the patients quite nervous as well when they saw him trying to write on their notes just before the operation. But he was a very good surgeon.

Sam: If there is anything you regret about your career or that you could go back and change, what would it be?

Mark: You know it sounds trite to say it, but I don’t regret anything.

So the things that I've done which have led me to good things, have been great - but the things I've done that have superficially seemed like the wrong decision, [there] have been all sorts of interesting consequences and lessons and positive things that have come out of it.

So the person I am now is a combination of all those good things and the things that weren’t so good. So, I wouldn't change a thing. I would be a different person with a different set of perceptions and a different understanding of the world if I hadn't been on the journey that I've been. That journey is really important to me. That was my life.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope that people you’ve worked with, remember you for?

Mark: I’d like to be considered a good doctor. Someone who's been kind and respectful to my patients and someone who's been a supportive and thoughtful colleague.

Sam: Mark, it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you and hear about your life and work.

Mark: It’s been great, thank you very much.

Sam: Thank you and thank you for listening.

Mark's story - Part 1

Mark Davies 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 Mark's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Mark in 10 questions and (2) Mark's drawing challenge.

Sam: Mark, thanks very much for joining us.

Mark: No problem.

Sam: Where’s is your accent from?

Mark: I guess I grew up in the south, so I’ve got a sort of, I guess a non-descriptive southern accent but I’m one of those people who’s a bit of a chameleon. So when I talk to people with strong regional accents, I acquire them over time, which is slightly embarrassing because people think you’re taking the mickey. I guess I’m just jealous of other people’s accent maybe.

Sam: Where have you spent most of your working life?

Mark: Most of my working life has been spent as a General Practitioner in West Yorkshire, a place called Hebden Bridge, which is where I live. But I’ve spent a large amount of time also in London, doing various government jobs around health and the NHS.

Sam: What made you decide to start working in health care?

Mark: I think I had always been interested in biology. As a young man I was particularly interested in doing zoology actually, marine zoology. I wanted to be Jacque Cousteau I remember.

But when it came to actually applying for the course, a very good friend of mine - my best friend - decided he was going to be a doctor and I thought, 'well if he’s going to be a doctor, then I’m going to be a doctor as well'. It wasn’t one of those vocational things, it was more kind of keeping up with him, to be absolutely honest.

Sam: What made you want to become a GP, all of those years – not, all of those years ago - some of those years ago.

Mark: Do you know what - it was all of those years ago.

The thing that drew me to general practice was about the longitudinal relationship that you have with patients and indeed, with families.

I remember saying someone to me once - ‘cause I started off in hospital medicine – that actually in hospital medicine, the diseases stay the same and the patients change. And in general practice, it’s the patients that stay the same and the diseases change. And as I was more interested in the patients than the diseases, it seemed like a more logical place for me to be.

Sam: What made you stay working in healthcare?

Mark: I found that I loved it. And I was really worried when I started as a medical student, I didn’t find the undergraduate subject really interesting. I wasn’t really into the anatomy, physiology and a whole bunch of chemicals. And for a time, I kind of really worried that this wasn’t was for me.

I remember the first time I went to a ward and they introduced me to a woman who was a patient on that ward and asked me to get her story. They had to come and drag me away.

I just suddenly realised what an amazing privilege it was, that people let you into their lives in a way that you could affect the outcomes that they got and that you would affect their wellbeing and their level of confidence they had in the care that they were receiving. And that seemed like an incredible privilege. I couldn’t believe that I was in that position.

So I kind of got hooked on it then and I’ve been hooked on that ever since.

Sam: Do you remember her story now?

Mark: I do, yeah, very clearly.

Sam: Could you share it with us?

Mark: She was a young woman in her late 20s, who had had Crohn’s disease from a very young age – about 10.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition of the bowel, that in those days was often treated by having the area of Crohn’s disease removed surgically. And this had led to her having a shorter and shorter bowel. In her late 20s, she was quite severely ill and didn’t really have enough bowel to give her body sufficient nutrition, which meant she was extremely weak and in and out of hospital a lot.

On a lot of tablets and steroids, which had puffed her up and made her quite puffed up and round. One of the things I remember is her saying that she refused to be defined by her illness and there’s so much more of her than people see because of her big puffy face because of the steroids and all the bags, drips and all the paraphernalia of her treatment.

She was really concerned that she was disappearing behind her disease and was just desperate to be seen as a human being with a real story to tell.

Because she had been ill for so long and she’d spent so much time in hospital, actually she'd a lot of really interesting stories to tell. I guess she’d seen more than she should have done as a child and had a really interesting perspective of life’s journey.

It had quite a profound effect on me and I came away with a mixture of – well, actually frankly – being quite impressed by her and being incredibly grateful for my own health, that I hadn’t been through that and really touched by the humility that she showed in just sharing her story so generously.

So it wasn’t really very much about Crohn’s disease, which is what I was really supposed to finding out about as a medical student, but I knew a lot about her.

Sam: I’m reading a book at the moment ‘Do no harm’ by an author whose name I cannot remember. He’s a neurosurgeon and he talks about how you bring the humanity back to medicine and to clinical practice and sometimes those bits are the most challenging, over and above the procedure itself.

Mark: And actually, you know what - if you block the humanity out of the practice of medicine, it's quite a lot easier.

Sam: In what way?

Mark: There’s something called the collusion of anonymity, where patients pretend you are not a doctor and the doctor pretends the patients isn’t a real human being. And it makes the difficult encounter, around medicine, which sometimes can be really difficult - telling someone they are dying, or telling someone their child is going to die, or telling someone they’ve got a serious diagnosis.

If you can keep that humanity of the other person at a distant and make it just a technical transaction – emotionally, it’s much easier for the doctor.

And there’s an element of that, that you have to do in order to keep doing the job and not become emotionally exhausted, but actually if you do it too much, you miss the whole point.

And at its very heart - clinical practice, medicine, nursing - is about the encounter between two human beings. There is a whole bunch of stuff around the treatment of diseases, science, interventions and operations, but at its heart it’s that interaction is where the richness is. And we lose, that we lose everything.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give to a young professional just starting out in their career about how to retain their values or to stay human in an increasingly stressed environment?

Mark: Oh my goodness, what a great question. It’s a very poignant question, as you know, ‘cause as my daughter is a medical student and I have had this conversation with her. I am left feeling that I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to tell her what the answer will be in her career, because I suspect her career would be very different from the career that I had. And the pressures that I’ve had to deal with during my professional life as a doctor are likely to be very different from the pressures that she gets exposed to.

I think there’s a real danger with the pressure of work and just the sheer volume of work that you are expected to get through, as a doctor. There’s a real danger that the people and individuals get crowded out from that. And it becomes much more become a technical exercise. It sounds naff to say it, but I think the greatest protection that you have against that happening is to put yourself in their shoes.

So if you were on the receiving end of medical care, what would you want and what would you be worried about? You know what would you be expecting to happen and what would you hope for? And that’s true obviously, if that was your mother, or your brother, or your child, or indeed you, yourself.

And if we can hold onto that ability to project our own experiences through our patients and see it through their eyes, then that's probably the most valuable tool we've got, in holding onto the humanity of medicine.

Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could - what one piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting out on your healthcare career?

Mark: The most important lesson that I have learned professionally is the power of mature reflection. The ability to be able to look at successes and failures; complaints and the everyday job itself - to take step back and think about it critically and think about it in a balanced way that allows you to see perspective, not over-personalise things and derive what learning you can from the experiences.

The power of reflective practice ,which is something that I suppose I came to realise quite late in my career, I think is enormously, enormously powerful. I guess in another setting you might call it mindfulness, but the ability to come up reflect in a mature manner around learning I think it's really important.

The reason I say that is I've seen people’s careers go down. You know I've been involved in a few personal tragedies, which I have found personally very difficult. The well-honed skill of being to step back and reflect on those things; either with someone or with a trusted colleague, in retrospect would have really helped me get through those difficult times. It also would have helped some of the clinicians I know who – actually, one of them that I’m thinking about, actually ended up leaving the profession - which is a tragedy for everybody.

Sam: Do you think that is up to the individual - or leading question here - can the service for teams and organisations support that reflective learning?

Mark: Actually genuinely, because I was a General Practitioner, I think the appraisal process that has been introduced into a postgraduate training for General Practitioners and appraisal has been a really major step forward in terms of encouraging reflective practice. That's why said I come to late was because of the introduction of appraisals that really made me go through them.

The first few years I did it, I went through it in a fairly tick box way, without really driving much benefit from it. Then the more I did it, the more I actually started to do it properly and actually started to get a lot more from it.

So - it’s both, it’s a willingness on the part of clinicians, particularly doctors, to stop pretending to be such heroes and acquire the humility to be able to question what’s going on around them. But, equally a system that allows and encourages a framework for that to be happening in a supportive way.

The million-dollar question is, how do you create space for that to happen in such a busy and pressured environment?

But I would say it’s a bit like the man and the saw that he’s not sharpened. You that story don’t you? The guy who’s sawing a tree down with a blunt saw and someone comes along and says ‘why don’t you sharpen your saw?

And he says, ‘well, I’m too busy cutting this tree down. I haven’t got time.

I think there’s a lesson in there, around professionals looking after themselves and making sure that their tools are optimised for the difficult jobs that they’ve got to do - that their saw really is as sharp as it might be.

Sam: What was the best or worst advice you've ever received?

Mark: The best advice I ever had, was from a patient who - I was having a really difficult conversation with, because I was needing to tell her that she was dying.

Well, I wasn’t actually, she knew she was dying. We were going through the motions where I came to the realisation that she realised that she was dying - and I was, in my own clumsy way trying to get there. I was quite a young GP at that time - [pause] and she helped me do that.

Sam: How did she help you do that?

Mark: She was a teacher. And she taught. She just couldn't resist teaching.

So, I was starting off, exploring her ideas - and what the books teach you to do around breaking bad news.

And she was saying, ‘you’re doing this really well.’

When I finished, she said – she said to me, that she was pleased that I was the one who told her that. She was grateful that I had told her and it was a very special gift.

She was only young. She was in her early 60s, she’d just retired. She was looking forward to a happy retirement in Scotland with a husband.

That was being taken from her. She was a very impressive woman. She left a big impact on me.

-- End of Part 1 --

Lisi's story

Lisi Archibald is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Lisi Archibald. Lisi, thank you for joining me.

Lisi: That’s alright.

Sam: Lisi, where’s your accent from?

Lisi: My accent is from St Albans in Hertfordshire.

Sam: Where have you spent most of your working life?

Lisi: In London.

Sam: What do you do for work?

Lisi: I’m a graphic designer.

Sam: How long have you been doing that for?

Lisi: So all in all, I think my career as a graphic designer has been for about seven years, but full-time I’ve been doing it for about four.

Sam: What made you decide to start working in healthcare?

Lisi: Well I think I kind of just fell into actually. I was offered a really interesting project and I just went for it. I thought it was really a great opportunity and then everything just started flourishing from there.

Sam: What has made you stay working around health care?

Lisi: I've never really wanted to do design for corporations for packaging for sweets and food and stuff like that. That doesn’t really excite me so much. When there’s more of a wholesome outcome, it makes me feel better as a designer and I’m not selling anything that feels a little bit immoral. I think that is much
better for me morally.

Sam: What keeps you going?

Lisi: I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that my work is informative for people. So whether it be patients when they’re looking for packaging for their drugs or leaflets that inform them on services, or information on their care - that makes me feel good about myself, that I’m helping them in that way. That for me feels a lot better than selling them a chocolate bar.

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you think of a time where things went really well?

Lisi: It was a few years ago. My dad, he had a problem with his heart, he had angina and he was scheduled to have heart bypass. Whilst he was in surgery they realised he needed to have more than one, he needed to have five bypasses in one operation. When my mum told me I was really scared, I was really worried ‘cause you know it’s my dad. I haven't really been prepared for it to be this major.

I remember when the day of his operation I left work early and I made sure that I was at the hospital waiting for him, for when he came out and he was ok again. So I went there and I was really, really anxious and I went to the ward.

The nurses were so lovely and they said, ‘he’s just kind of stirring now, he's waking up and if you want you can go sit with him.’

And I was shaking like leaf I was so scared but the nurse got me a cup of tea, she got a chair and she was like, ‘he is under a lot of sedation but if you just talk to him like just hearing words will make - he’ll start to come around a bit more lucidly, so it’ll probably be really helpful for him’.

So I was just talking and - I remember - he didn't know anything. He was asking what day it was, what time it was. He didn't really know who I was either.

But it was really nice and I remember the room he was in had loads of sunlight and I was so grateful that they hadn't plonked him in a room that didn't have any light at all. It was just him and one other person. I don’t know, it was just nice and clean. I was really grateful for that.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give the young health professional who is just starting out on a career, about how to retain their values, or how to stay human, in an increasingly stressed environment?

Lisi: I think the most important thing to remember in your healthcare professional is treat people like people; don't treat people like symptoms.

The best thing you can do is when they walk in through the door is greet and ask them, ‘are they having a nice day’, or just to say, ‘hello I'm Sarah’ or something and let them answer back, because immediately you just completely disarm any anxiety they have walking into your office.

Or if you’re a nurse and you’re coming, to their bed, they just feel so much more happy. You straight away soon as you introduce yourself, the human element is already there.

So whatever you say from that moment on in, everything is going to you know be a bit more plain sailing, rather than kind of going ‘oh ok right so what’s your problem then.’ Cause then you’re just like, ‘oh ok - well he really doesn't care , or she really doesn't care.’

Some of the things that I’ve had -- so for example when I had my blood tests. So I had to have three done. So the first of three, the guy sat me down, he didn't even say what his name was.

He was literally like, ‘take your coat off and lift your sleeve up. If you don’t like needles look away in the opposite direction’ and I was like ahhh – not going to swear right now Sam - but literally, I was in my head I was freaking out because I don't like needles.

But the second time I went the lady was lovely, she was like, ‘hey how’s it going? You alright - take a seat down I’ll be with you in just a second.’

She was like, ‘are you a bit nervous?’

And I was like, ‘Yeah’

And she was like, ‘don’t worry I don’t like needles either.’

She said, ‘you won’t know that I’m doing this.’

And I was like ‘what do you mean?’

And she said ‘I’ve already done it.’

And I was like what. Just you know the way she was in comparison to the way that he was, she treated me like a human and he treated me like an arm.

The comparison was just massive. On the one hand I’m really anxious and literally wanting to be anywhere else but there and on the other hand I’m don’t really want to be here but at least she’s having a laugh with me and then when she told me that she had already done it and I had nothing to worry about in the first place. It was just completely different.

Sam: What has working in health or social care meant to you?

Lisi: I think a bit more of a connection, especially when we worked in London Connect. That was such an eye opener, because at the time, I’d never worked directly with patients -- not that we did anything clinical, of course, but actually listening to real points of views from people that either suffering or talking on behalf of others who were experiencing healthcare at the time.

They always had something to say and something that needed to be improved and you actually felt like you were helping them. It’s that thing about being heard and actions actually been taken, in line with the things that they've been saying; the things that they wanted and it was just nice.

It felt like it was a really human position to have and it didn't feel like a job. That was one of the things that I really loved about that position. It didn't feel like a job it was more than that.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Lisi: That everybody is different and everybody has something to say. And whilst someone might experience the same thing, it isn’t the same. It’s very different.

I suppose the other thing that I actually quite like as well is the hierarchies don’t need to matter, you don’t need to be fearful of somebody who’s in a high position like a doctor or a chief executive, or something like that because they are just people with their own issues, their own problems and actually with their own knowledge to share.

Small things can make a big difference, has there been a time when a small act made you feel valued and respected?

Lisi: When people remember little things, that's always a wonderful feeling. When they remember your birthday, or if they literally just say thank you for doing that.

A while ago, we had a day where we said thank you to each other. I remember walking in, in the morning and there was little treat on my desk saying thank you for being so creative. It was just a little card with some chocolates and it was so simple. But it was so sweet. I took a photo and I’ve always kept that photo because it was just so adorable.

But it’s the little things like that, that just make you feel that what you're doing is special.

Sam: Final question – we’ve had quite a deep and trusting conversation, any final thoughts?

Lisi: I keep a lot to myself and I’m actually inside I’m a bit of a scared cat.

I think sometimes I find things quite difficult and I don’t quite know how to express them and I’m just like, ‘OK, well I’m not going to express it at all.’

It’s all quite British. On the inside, you’re going on vesuvius meltdown and then on the outside, you’re like, cool calm and collected like - I can walk through Soho with my head held high, drinking my super special latte, with crazy syrups.

Sam: Do you think other people working in healthcare feel that?

Lisi: I think they do. I think healthcare is quite a difficult place of work.

You have so much expected of you as a healthcare professional. I’m sure there are different positions and different areas of working in healthcare that have different pressures. But, certainly I think if you’re on the front line - if you’re a doctor, a nurse, or a healthcare assistant, or anybody that works in a clinical area, you have so much expected of you.

You have patients that have got demands. But then you’ve got these additional pressures, like targets that you need to hit. I think it's quite easy to lose certain things – to lose your morals, for example. Just the simple thing about treating someone as a person rather than as a symptom can be quite difficult I think.

There's a lot going on, in terms of, how they can do their jobs better with the resources that they have. I reckon there is so much anxiety bubbling below the surface and soon it’s just going to rise to the surface and everyone is just going beyond strike like junior doctors. Then - I don’t know - can’t even imagine what’s going to happen.

Sam: So my vision is to start improving the interactions – so a patient would have a positive interaction like you did with the nurse, the female nurse. And if we start to spark these little one-on-one interactions then hopefully the whole healthcare system will start to feel better about itself and the anxiety and the pressures will go down and we can start to improve things.

Lisi: And I think that will work, I think it will. I know it’s in the early days but hopefully it’ll like one of those lovely big snowballs and everything will just start rolling.

Sam: That’s the plan. Thank you very much for your time Lisi, it’s been a pleasure to have you here.

Lisi: Welcome, that’s ok.

Sam: Thank you for being open and sharing where you. Thank you Lisi.

Lisi: Thank you Sam.

Tom's story

Tom Whicher 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 Tom's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Tom in 10 questions and (2) Tom's drawing challenge.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Tom Whicher. Tom, thanks for joining us.

Tom: Hi Sam.

Sam: Where is your accent from?

Tom: Home Counties, English, I’m afraid.

Sam: What does that mean for people who are not English?

Tom: Surrey. Hampshire borders. Guildford - kind of suburban, wishes he came from South London. Doesn’t quite.

Sam: Where have you spent most of your working life?

Tom: Most of it in England, working my way from all over the country really doing consultancy, physically and moving from engineering slowly crossing to healthcare.

Sam: What made you decide to start working healthcare?

Tom: I actually didn't choose to, initially. I got sent to Wolverhampton, to do my first ever healthcare project, which was looking at clinical coding - not very exciting, it’s important but it’s not very exciting. Working with the teams there to make sure they were capturing all the right comorbidities for patients; making sure that the hospital was correctly recording what it was doing.

And I didn’t really enjoy it, at all. It was dull and it was just about filling in the right forms, which is very un-me - but I did develop a real interest in the NHS and I found it fascinating seeing the different ways that people worked in the healthcare system and how disconnect a lot of it was.

Sam: Tell me more about that.

Tom: So it's just the standard things that people talk about, which is one hand not talking to the other hand; an awful lot of repetition of process, which is frustrating if you're a clinician or someone working within healthcare, but downright scary if you're patient. You know - the fact that I’m having to repeat myself again and again and again and people don’t seem to understanding that and actually it’s really important that I’m allergic to antibiotics - is a really big deal and im beginning to see the kind of how disorganised admin process is or lack of information ended up creating really poor experience of people.

A classic one I always talk about is sitting in outpatients department while watching patient after patient after patient turn up with the best intention in the world, at reception with four different letters which all has conflicting things. Loads of them had either missed their appointment or in the wrong building and how to run somewhere else to get there on time and being treated like it was their fault. That was the kind of thing that made me want to do we do now.

Sam: What do you do for work now?

Tom: So I am one of the founders of Dr Doctor. We’re helping patients access NHS services.

Sam: And how do you do that?

Tom: We’ve got a combination of online and smart phone tools that let you book an appointment, change an appointment, find out why you can be there, make sure it’s valuable for you and it suits you. It helps hospitals make sure that they're delivering the right care to the right people

Sam: And how long have you been doing that for?

Tom: We started doing that in July 2012.

Sam: What keeps you going?

Tom: What keeps you going is really interesting one, isn’t it? I think it changes month by month and year by year.

It's kind of when you first start doing something like this, it’s the excitement of building something new. That goes. And you end up with - you know, working in any industry I think is a cycle. Working in any start up is a cycle. Working in a healthcare startup, is a really quite pronounced cycle.

You get over the excitement of building something new and you have tough times. Then you get some working and you have really good times. You start to see the effect on individuals and that keeps you going.

Then you begin to build business, for me anyway. You begin to think that all this stuff that we’ve been talking about the last few years we might actually be a bit be able to do some of.

We might actually make some impact and at the moment that is the thing that keeps me going is say, ‘OK if we know what we’ve built works we know it helps people but we might actually be on achieving a scale now that actually makes a difference at a system level which should be an amazing thing.’

Sam: What has working in health and social care services meant to you?

Tom: It's taught me a lot about the value of public services generally. It's taught me that life is a lot more than just kind of the pound in your pocket. There are a lot of people out there that do things because they love it and they love working with people. It's made me really deeply passionate about what we have uniquely, I think, in the UK in a public health service. It’s made me realize how many people that health service really do so much and we should everything we can to protect it.

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me about a time when things didn't go so well?

Tom: So a really good example of that is my friend Ed who - I'm a big sailor - and we were doing a sailing event together. He got hit by boom and he had an amazing injury, which was he hit the back of his head with the boom and as it knocked him across the boat, he then caved in his forehead as well. So had a front and back cranial injury.

Within 15 minutes, he had been helicoptered off the boat. He had been taken to Southampton general which is one of the world's best neuroscience places, he’d been operated on and he was then in a coma for three months.

We obviously all went and visited him. I mean it was, for all of us, because I was at university at the time, it was a horrible experience - most of all for him obviously - but to see the quality of care he got at every point along that journey, which was never questioned, there was always someone to help him.

The best consultants in the world were there to answer his questions, allay his mother's fears, allay our fears, day after day after day after day and to watch him go through almost a two-year kind of recovery process, everything covered without having to think about is this might cost anything personally, was quite amazing.

He is a miracle, ‘cause he should have died that day. He really should of. Everything came together, to mean that he’s alive and he's just has a baby girl.

Sam: Ahhh, lovely. What one piece of advice would you give a young professional just starting out on a healthcare career, about how to retain their values or how to stay human in increasingly difficult and stressed environment?

Tom: You got to stay positive, you got to stay positive every day. Talk to the little people you know. I think that’s really important.

It's not about looking up the chain all the time. Talk to the people on reception that have been there for 30 years. Understand their stories. It’ll help you because the most powerful person in the organization is probably that receptionist, but it also means you can learn from all the experiences that they have had they really have had a lot.

Then at the same time, stay pragmatic because I think its really easy in the current climate to get really worn down by the fact you can put in huge hours and not feel valued and everything seems to be about money. Whilst actually we run the most sufficient healthcare service in the world.

Stay pragmatic. Get little things, done day by day and you'll see change and you’ll see growth and you’ll feel worthwhile.

Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself starting out on your healthcare career?

Tom: I would spend less time trying to speak to the people at the top of the system and more time doing what I just said and talking to the people in the middle of the system.

Finding the just individually excited managers, clinicians, receptionists and working with them and not worrying about the overall healthcare strategy piece. It does matter at some point, but it doesn't matter initially. I think you need to find on the ground problems you can solve first.

Sam: Thank you. If you feel comfortable to do so, can you please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment in your career?

Tom: Probably for me actually, the darkest times are when you don't know what to do next. When there's no one that can tell you what to do next and somehow you got to find an answer to question that no one’s quite articulated yet.

That's hard. That's really hard, but I think that's also really vital part of creating change, any sort of change. Then you do find the questions so you can answer them and you find a way out eventually.

Sam: A lot of leaders and inspirational speakers talk about the comfort zone. What's your relationship with your comfort zone?

Tom: That is a really interesting one. It's probably become too intimate again, recently, I would say. We as a business are at the point of kind of scale what we've done, so there's a lot of repeating what you’ve done before, but of course, that’s not always the answer right.

Often the answer is to innovate again and to find a new way of doing something. I’m probably too comfortable. I don’t like being in it, interestingly. I like getting out of it, but I like being able to find it again. I think that’s quite important.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Tom: It's taught me that people aren't as selfish as we’re led to believe.

I think this kind of a dogma in the press and in the way that we construct models around our economy which suggests that everyone is out to maximise their career, for a certain set of returns which are usually financial.

You quickly learn that isn't true at all. The healthcare service is filled with people that really, really want give back and desperately do everything they can every day to do that. That might just be little things like saying hello to the person in bed two. I don't think that is very well reflected in the public conscious – subconscious, rather and in the way that I think the press talks about things. I think that is really important that we remember that. There is more to life then I'm out for a self, mate.

Sam: What have you had to work hardest at, to be a success in your job?

Tom: I think tenacity is really important. I'm naturally not a starter – finisher, I'm a starter, starter, starter, starter. So finding the patience and tenacity to keep driving at something, is probably the biggest individual thing. Combine that with being as organised as you possibly can be.

Sam: How difficult has that been?

Tom: It is really hard, that's really, really tough. I am constantly being distracted by the new shiny exciting thing over there, but you’ve got to have real mental toughness to drag yourself back to the dull email that you have to write or the proposal, or bit of maths that you have to do. That's the stuff that actually creates the exciting change

Sam: What help you what has helped you stick to that and to have the tenacity?

Tom: My favourite quote I've ever read in book about management is by Ben Horowitz and that is ‘there are no silver bullets but there are lots of lead bullets’. I’m one of those people who always thought yeah that is one big solution that will fix everything and we can do the next thing.

That was one of those quotes that made me go, ‘oh yeah, to create big exciting change it takes lots and lots and lots of little things from lots and lots of people’. The breakthrough overnight number one success album – there’s no such thing as an overnight success – there’s lots of lead bullets.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date what do you hope the people you've worked with remember you for?

Tom: Hopefully a sense of humour and an ability to get things done – but, I think it might only be one of those two.

Sam: Thank you for your time today Tom. Any final thoughts?

Tom: If you want to make a career in healthcare, now is a great time. Take the opportunities, be pragmatic and remember, always do things for the right reason.

I think that the NHS is the most amazing thing that we have in the UK and we all need to be aware of that, promote it, protect it and make it even more amazing. So it’s still around for future generations.

Sam: Thank you very much for your time today Tom, it’s been a pleasure.

Tom: Not at all.

Sam: And thanks for listening.

Tom: Bye bye.

Jessica's story

Jessica Robson 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 Jessica's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Jessica in 10 questions and (2) Jessica's drawing challenge.

Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Jessica Robson. Thank you for joining us.

Jessica: Thank you.

Sam: Where’s your accent from?

Jessica: Well, my Mum is from Nottingham and my Dad is a Geordie, so I think I’m sort of just the middle England somewhere, not entirely sure.

Sam: And where did you grow up?

Jessica: I grew up in the Lake District. A little village in Cumbria called Grange-over-Sands. Not many people know it, it’s in Morecombe. It’s quite a small village; lots of elderly people driving really fancy cars, really slowly. But it was a beautiful place to grow up, right on the beach and not that far from the lakes and the mountains, so we were out quite a lot with outdoor pursuits and just a great place to live.

Sam: And where have you spent mostly of you working life?

Jessica: Mostly in Leeds, Yorkshire. Sort of 15 years probably and I’ve been in London for about, almost 3 years.

Sam: What do you do for work now?

Jessica: I work in Information Governance in the NHS. I’ve been working there for a few years. I absolutely love it. It’s such a varied role. You never know when there’s going to be an incident, which is obviously terrible. But there’s always something to do, something to fix. Lots of training, dealing with audits and The Toolkit as well.

Sam: And what were you doing before that?

Jessica: I’ve been working in Information Governance for about 8 years now. But before then, I worked in at an estate agents. I managed a branch. I still love properties. Love to spend an afternoon looking through property websites or sometimes going through house viewings. Obviously I’m not looking to move. I worked in HSBC for a little while and worked in the complaints department. And that’s my entire work history.

Sam: What’s striking me at the moment is you don’t choose roles that are going to be very easy. You’re perhaps dealing with feedback that could be quite negative or critical. What’s drawn you to that?

Jessica: I don’t think that really makes a difference. I think, if someone comes to me and they’re not happy, you’ve got to deal with a complaint. I know they’re not against me, they’re not sort of complaining at me and that’s fine. I can sort of take that away and try and deal with the problem and hopefully try and help them or and fix the issue, whatever it might be.

I’m certainly not one to sort of take that on my shoulder and go home and worry about for the rest of the night or something like that. You know, people get upset, people get angry and that’s fine, just let them vent and then try and deal with the situation.

Sam: What has working health and social care services meant to you?

Jessica: It means, even though I’m not there, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I’m not working on the front line with the patients, I like to think I’m there working in the background helping out, in some way. I’m protecting the people’s information and making sure that I do train the people that are dealing face to face with the patients and making sure they know what they should be doing with people’s information. I’m a cog somewhere in the wheel hopefully helping someone, cure them and get better in some sort of shape or form.

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me about time when it went really well?

Jessica: Yeah, not that long about a month ago actually, I was slightly injured and ended up going to hospital A&E. And I was in a bit of pain and I wasn’t really in a good mood. But there was a woman, I think she was one of the triage nurses. She ended up being the person that would see me through from the beginning to the end and she was there to have the x-ray - and she was just great.

And I’m sure she just did her job as she’s meant to, but she was enthusiastic, she was just caring. She kept telling me what was happening at every particular stage.

And I said when I left, ‘you do know, you’re absolutely amazing’.

And she said, ‘I’m just doing my job.

And I’m sure she was but there was just something about her. She was just absolutely great.

Sam: Reflecting about that now, what do you think it was about her?

Jessica: I think it was her attitude, but she really did care. She was actually leaving her shift just after I was about to leave the hospital. So I don’t know how long a nurse shift is, 10, 12 hours perhaps, but she was just there. She was just ready to help and you know, just really engaging.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give the young professional who is just starting out on their health and social care career, about how they can retain their values or how to stay human in an increasingly stressed environment?

Jessica: I would suggest that they think about the job that they are doing and why they are doing it. What is their aim for doing that particular role? It may be the case that they can’t, perhaps they are not in the right role. But if they think that’s what they want to do - what are their aims? What are the aims of the organisation as well? What’s the mindset that they you know need to get into and try to focus on that.

Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting out on your career?

Jessica: Wow, I’m not sure that I would change anything. Because if I were to change something, I wouldn’t be the same person, I wouldn’t have met the people that I’ve met and had the experiences. So I think my career has turned out OK. I’m very happy with where I am.

But if I go back in the time machine and make any amendments we wouldn’t be here today, would we? It’s unlikely.

Sam: What has been the best or the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Jessica: Ok, the best advice had to be when I was leaving a job and we had a bit of a leaving do and someone said to me, well said to everyone, around the table, ‘where do you see yourselves in five years?’

And some people said, ‘I want to be my manager’s manager; I want to be in your job’, to the woman.

And I said to her, ‘I’m not entirely sure where I see myself in five years. I don’t really make plans at the moment, I am just going to aim to do as best as I can do and see where that ends me.

And then I asked her. She said, ‘Well, I would say the exactly the same as you actually.’

And she was very respected person and in Information Governance and she still does. And she’s had a very long career and is very successful. So someone to look up to. And it was interesting that she said that she would have gave the same answer that I did.

Sam: And what’s happened as a result of that, do you think?

Jessica: I moved down to London – big city, so that was exciting. And I’ve been able to progress my career, I’ve been able to do some training and keep in touch with local Information Governance community, which I think is really key.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, can you please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment of your career?

Jessica: It was a difficult time for me, but perhaps not the worst was - when I was dealing with particular incident and a member of staff had unfortunately made a mistake in the organisation, that had resulted in a breach. Not a huge breach, but a breach of some patient information nonetheless.

We had the panel and we discussed what had gone wrong and what we could do moving forward to mitigate any future risk. And the member of staff that had made this mistake, was at the panel and had obviously been very upset, you know crying a lot before the session and was physically shaking with nerves. And from what I could tell, had been seriously told off by her manager.

So I was there as someone who was not working within her department, but as the Information Governance lead in the organisation and I was happy that she was there. She made some really good suggestions in regards to how we could have changed our process and things that we implemented not only in her department and throughout.

But, sitting there looking at the fact that were having a panel about information governance breach and seeing how distressed she was and traumatised she was that she had made this mistake. It obviously wasn’t deliberate. It was horrible to see, but I was able to, well I think, I tried - to reassure her and thank her for being there and like I said had suggestions for the future were absolutely great. So it was really appreciated that she actually came along.

Sam: How did you get through that in the moment?

Jessica: A lot of smiles at her across the table. A lot of reassurance to her and thanking her and other people for being there and for talking about what we did in terms of the incident and what we’ve already told the person whose information we had unfortunately released and their feedback from that as well which was fairly understandable, which was great, but nonetheless upsetting obviously for the person. Moving forward, just keep in touch with her after the session and just reassuring her as much as possible.

Sam: What has working in health and social care taught you about people?

Jessica: That everyone is different. But also, that there are just some amazing people out there, that have overcome some terrible illnesses and traumatic deaths in the family. But, just somehow they pull through. The ones that do survive just seem to be to make their lives so much better as well.

Sam: Small things can make a big difference. Has there been a time when a small act made you feel valued and respected?

Jessica: I think it has to be a time when, someone just gets in touch with you when they don’t have, to say thank you.

So it could be perhaps a patient, maybe they made a Subject Access Request, as they can do - as anyone can do under the Data Protection Act - and they’ll get in touch to say thank you for their medical records being sent out, that they really appreciated it.

That’s not really anything that they need to say thank you for. It’s something that, in some cases it’s a service they even paid for, but so they just call up with such compassion and they’re so grateful, to say thank you and let you know how that’s changed their life in some shape or form.

Which I find really unusual, to be honest. But it’s obviously the way you write the letters and the communications you have with them, especially if it’s something that’s quite time consuming or some records from a while ago that are hard to find. They do seem to appreciate it in some shape or form.

Sam: And what I find interesting listening to you, thinking, ‘why would they thank me for something that I’m just doing in my job?’, is the example you gave earlier about being in the A&E with the nurse, and she was like, ‘oh I’m just doing my job’.

Jessica: And I suppose I did exactly the same thing to her. And she said, ‘Thank you very much, but this is my job.’ So, yeah. It happens both ways doesn’t it? in lots of places.

Sam: But I like that you take the time to thank people as well as you recognising it.

What have you had to work hardest at, to be a success in your job?

Jessica: I think, for me, I always recognise people’s faces. But it’s always quite taxing sometimes to remember their names, especially when I’m doing lots of training or I’m standing in front of all the new starters in the organisation, doing the induction. I’ll walk through the corridors in the next coming weeks and people would just go ‘Hi’ and they’ll say my name and how’s it going, or ask me a question. And I’ll look at them thinking, I do recognise you or I don’t, but clearly, you know me somehow. So I always try and learn their names as much as possible and the department they work in.

So that’s maybe a really small thing compared with what I do, but just remembering who people are, especially when they know me, which has always been quite difficult.

Sam: What’s helped you do that?

Jessica: I think just time. Paying more attention. Just stopping and talking to people. If they honestly know who I am and I don’t recognise them, I just have to tell them. Somehow politely say or ask them some questions and they might mention what department they work in and sometimes the penny drops.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope people would always remember you for?

Jessica: I work in information governance, so I’d like to say information governance. Can I do that?

Sam: Mm-hmmm [yes]

Jessica: Information governance.

Sam: What about it?

Jessica: Just, that I think I am enthusiastic about the role and about moving things forward and making a change. But also, I’m very big on training. If you don’t train your staff, if you don’t teach them the ‘dos and the don’ts’ and the rules, the processes and the policies, then we can’t expect them to work right.

I mean obviously, people are our biggest risk in any organisation. So we can never guarantee if someone has had a bad sleep or had an argument with someone at home and maybe more likely to make a mistake. But certainly in training in information governance has to be the most important thing and has to be something that I am really passionate about.

Sam: Thank you. If you could thank one person for helping you to where you are today who would it be?

Jessica: Could I pick two? I’d pick my parents - for teaching me, for bringing me up in the way that they have, for encouraging me, at every point. Obviously from being a child and into adulthood now. They’re always a big part of my life.

Sam: And what would you say?

Jessica: Thank you.

Sam: Thank you very much for your time Jessica, it’s been a pleasure.

Jessica: It’s been fun, thank you.

Sam: And thank you all for listening.

Howard's story - Part 2

Dr Howard Leicester is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Howard's interview is published in two parts. You can listen Part 1 of Howard's interview here. The recording and transcript of Part 2 is below. You'll also find links to Howard's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Howard in 10 questions and (2) Howard's drawing challenge.

Please note: In this part of the interview, Howard also shares how his sense of humour sometimes gets him into trouble. This might almost be a 'PG' rating, so best to listen with headphones if you have kids around, or are listening at work. 

Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member have used health or social care services has there been a time when it went really well?

Howard: When I had an experience about 20 years ago, which was complete, it was game changing in my treatment for my hearing loss.

I had been staying in Scotland with my brother and he has a dog that has been trained not go up the stairs or chew things but he did go up the stairs, he found my hearing aids and ate them. So I was 700 miles away from any form of hearing or anything else, I managed to get a replacement set of hearing aids sent up a couple of days later.

Also Kent Hospital dealing with my hearing aids were informed about the problem, so they were getting things ready. So when I did get home, they had a brand new set of hearing aids ready for me waiting at home so I can carry on with my work and everything. So I sent them a picture, it was actually coming up to Christmas time, a picture of the offending hound called Trinity which said,

Dear Kent Hospital, I am very sorry for eating Howard’s hearing aids. I should do better next time.’

And I sent this and a letter from me saying thank you them and I sent it off. The next time, about couple of months later, I went in for a regular check-up make sure the hearing aids were working fine. I wasn’t sitting in the waiting room and being told that ‘Dr Leicester, we’ll see you in another couple of minutes, be with you in a few minutes’ they said, ‘Hello Howard, how are you mate, how you getting on?’

So besides that the dog ate my hearing aids and they responded brilliantly at the hospital and I thank them with that letter and it all added up with that chemistry that change the relationship between me as the patient and them as the professionals caring for me all to the better and its ongoing, its brilliant.

Sam: What made you decide to start working in healthcare?

Howard: When I was at university my sight and hearing were deteriorating anyway but became obvious and I thought well I needed to get back into the areas I want to be. I want to be medical-based research and I tried to do that coming back through information technology computing. So I did an MSc in effectively computing and the combination of computing and my background in the medical side of health led me into health informatics. And the opportunities to do research posts and a PhD at city University which directed me straight into health informatics in healthcare.

Sam: What has working in health and social care taught you about people?

Howard: Organisations don’t make the difference. It’s the individuals who make the difference that I have found in my personal experience. I see that so in organisations I’ve visited, worked with in health and social care, it’s just the few of the people I have met who share my views and are prepared to do things and fight to get the Accessible Information Standard on the agenda on the ball of that hospital.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so can you please tell me about the darkest, scariest, or most challenging moment in your career.

Howard: Well, away from the darkest moments of emotional thing like a loss of a close friend or family member - the scariest moment in my whole life was doing an abseil. Kent Association for the Blind had called, had sent around to various pubs sponsorship forms to do an abseil for their charity.

My local pub decided to put me down as the person they were going to sponsor to do this abseil event. And I thought, ‘OK, no one would bother with that.’

So many people signed that sponsorship form, I was up for sponsorship of over £1,000. I couldn’t cop out in the end. I turned up in Maidstone and a six-story, multi-storey car park and somehow had to go up there and abseil down, when I have great fear of heights.

I also had been trained for navigating on a long cane: just standing on the stall or stepping up two or three flights of steps and trying to come back down gave me vertigo. This experience I had to do it ‘cause so many people had sponsored me. It was the scariest moment. Everyone gave an enormous round of applause when I actually finished. And it was the first time I've ever gone into the pub to help me stop shaking, rather than leaving with the shakes – it was such a nervous moment.

Sam: How did you get through it at the time? What were you think when you were at the top of that building?

Howard: Well, I have a rude version of this.

Sam: Folks, put your kids to bed right now.

Howard: The truth was I knew I had to do it because so many people had sponsored me. I just couldn’t face anyone unless I did do it. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But also the very next weekend I was a best man at a very dear friend’s wedding and he said he was very pleased that I was with everyone because only the week before I was on a very difficult abseiling event. And I thought I couldn’t say this in public, because there were grannies and aunties there –

But, I was thinking, ‘what’s the similarity between abseiling and sex?’

... in both cases you put absolute faith in somebody else's equipment!

Which is true. Well, I’m godfather to his first born daughter, so I was right not to use that.

Sam: You were telling me, only on the phone the other day that sometimes your cheekiness does get the better of you. I can’t imagine what you mean…

Howard: My brother thinks that I am - he calls it, ‘inappropriate humour’. If he's here we have a laugh and we have a good banter. If he hears about the sort of things I've said at conferences and things like that he just can’t believe it.

To an extent it is a defence mechanism, because I do - I often fill in between the jokes with solid facts and figures and logical argument. But if it was all that, no one would listen. But back to the defence mechanism - it feels nicer and more as if people are responding to you, if you do hear a titter of laughter, you know something’s happening. You know that the audience is still there, if nothing else. It’s helpful.

I sit and listen to people reading effectively their PowerPoint presentations at conferences all over the globe and I'm never convinced by anything.

It has to be an exceptional presentation to grab my attention. And I’m not saying that I’m the greatest presenter in the world, but I try to use different ways of doing things to get my message across to an extent that I am happy with. And if I can hear a bit of laughter out there, then I may have got the message outside and people are more likely to remember that they had a good laugh then if they are sitting there bored stiff.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope the people you’ve worked with remember you for?

Howard: The humbug joke.

Sam: Oh go on, what’s the humbug joke?

Howard: It was my dad’s favourite joke in the last few months of his life. So I told it actually at his funeral, which worked. It’s about 95 - 90% true, with a bit of poetic license.

The Methodist minister comes up over to me and says, ‘Howard, I hear you been measuring the quality and quantity of my sermons by how many polo mints you can chew.’

‘That is true minister, but don’t worry - based on the content of your sermon last weekend, I had switched the Humbugs.’

I got away with it.

Sam: If you could thank one person for helping you get where you are today, who would it be?

Howard: There was one person who, when I have been in most difficult circumstances have stepped in, often with his wife and friends - and that’s my brother. My sister has also been extremely important but I’ve removed.

But, I’d remove the restriction on one person. I am overwhelmed, that’s not the right word, I have an incredible range of good friends and people who wouldn’t stop at anything to give me support, friendship anything. So I am blessed with people who have been an inspirational and helpful to me, on many occasions.

Sam: And what would you say to them all?

Howard: I would say – you deserve the humbug joke as well.

Sam: We’ll make sure that everyone gets a copy of the Humbug joke.

Howard thank you so much for your time, I’ve enjoyed our conversation and getting to know you a little bit better. I thank you for being very open and very honest about your journey. So, thank you very much for having me here, and thank you to all of our listeners for listening.

Howard: Thank you Sam, thank you very much. Pleasure, as they say. Enjoyed it too.

Howard's story - Part 1

Dr Howard Leicester is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Howard's interview will be published in two parts. The recording and transcript of Part 1 is below. 

You'll also find links to Howard's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Howard in 10 questions and (2) Howard's drawing challenge.

Sam: Howard, thanks very much for joining us.

Howard: Pleasure to be here.

Sam: I am really delighted to be interviewing Howard. We’re down in your family home in Otford and you described yourself to me once as a blind visionary, a deaf listener and a patient champion. Can you tell us why use these labels on yourself?

Howard: Patient, very patient, champion. Yes, because these are messages that everyone should be aware of. We are all in our own way blind; unable to see what is obvious to others, that we can’t see. We rarely listen to others. We, we hear, but we don't listen – and to join up patient champion when everything is going so slowly, just to put in patient twice, makes the point – patient, very patient, it's taken longer than we anticipated, champion.

It all fits together and its message quietly making the point and putting a smile on people's faces. And if those people with smiles on their faces really understood what the messages were – they wouldn’t have such a big smile on their face.

Sam: (Laughs) I’m a bit worried ‘cause I always have a very big smile on my face when we spend time together.

And what are you a doctor in?

Howard: I'm a doctor in health informatics and trying to push in particular, patient centered health informatics. And it’s a new discipline that is part of the information and communications technology but it’s trying to be specifically in the health and social care arena and to spread it into other sectors. If everyone starts to realise that health and social care is so important and it’s the basis for everything else in society.

Sam: Where’s your accent from?

Howard: The accent of Kent. I’ve lived in and around basically south London but Kent side of it for virtually all my life. My parents were Londoners, but it’s south east England – well, you call it an accent, I say you’re the one with an accent and I just speak good Queen's English.

Sam: What do you do for work now?

Howard: I work with NHS England and various royal medical colleges, trying to support and champion their projects going on, like the patient online programme, which is about patients having access to their own records.

It’s about the big issue at the moment - the Accessible Information Standard - which is so that everyone who needs it, should have documents in alternative formats best suited for them, or support with face to face communications like sign language, or touch alphabet, or whatever if you have special needs that are direct communication that should be made of as well.

And I work with the College of Physicians and a professional record standards body to try and make sure that the right standards for recording information are coming in to health and social care records over the next few years.

Sam: How long have you been doing that for?

Howard: I've been involved in health informatics for a good 20, 25 years. I’ve just had the opportunity to recently to make accessibility, in other words making things easier for many people as possible, a bit of a mainstay of my work because NHS England and others appreciate that it needs to be there, so they call on me and others to push things along.

Sam: Thank you. What has made you stay working in healthcare?

Howard: Two simple reasons: one is, health and social care should be exemplary. And should set the standard. No other sector, despite what they all say - banking systems, booking travel, all those sort of things - they’re good, but they aren’t accessible for the broadest range of people that people say they are.

But number two, if you don't have reasonable health or support, all other sectors of society are irrelevant. You can’t do them. So everything is predicated, founded upon health – health and social care. Everything else fails. And until we get that right, all this mucking about in other sectors of society is pretty irrelevant. Get healthcare right, and if you are - you’re making a benefit to all the other sectors of society.

Sam: What keeps you going?

Howard: I’m not really sure what keeps me going, except the fact that if I can be up there and help other people and fly the flag which most people aren’t doing, then it’s my responsibility to do that.

I was at a conference - a workshop - on housing provision, here in Sevenoaks, Otford being close by. And there was the local government Minister for Housing, who is also the local government Minister [with] responsibility for adult social care.

So said to him, ‘do you know about the Accessible Information Standard?’

He said, ‘the what?’

And now he does. And that was me getting the plug in and pressure in at ministerial level, just by being there. Nothing to do with being an academic of City or Edinburgh, or anyone else. It was being out the fighting, to certain extent, as a local activist.

When I was a sort of academic I was invited to a conference at the 2020 organisation, which are very good. But they invited me to be on the same platform as somebody very senior from Microsoft and the then shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham and a senior person from British Computer Society health division.

And I just said, ‘my normal opening to a presentation like this, is the point that I am deaf and blind, so I have more in common with politicians and senior managers in healthcare than I do the patients I represent. I never believed I’d be on the platform with exactly those people that I was aiming that joke at in the first place.’

It was truly remarkable. But that's why I stay in health and in particular the IT field, because you get out there you can lobby, you are more than just an academic - you are a champion, you are a blind visionary, a deaf listener and a patient, patient champion and a strong activist. And you can get your messages through.

Sam: What one piece of advice would you give a young professional who’s starting out on their career, about how to retain their values, or how to stay human, in an increasingly stressed work environment?

Howard: Believe in yourself. Listen to others. Do not be overwhelmed by all the negative stuff that is going out. But have faith in yourself and follow - follow your goals and your beliefs - don't be chaperoned along routes that you don’t agree with.

Keep your head up. Keep smiling and also, you may be on the way up and doing well – but do not offend anyone at whatever level, because sooner or later you will be coming back down again and you will be meeting the same people, so you better be nice to them!

Sam: Very sound advice. Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself, if you were starting out on your career again?

Howard: I would have taken more effort into trying to get on top of the technology that I have - learnt to programme it better, to use it better.

I would have tried to develop a stronger sense of self-confidence. Not being blasé, over-the-top arrogant, but being at least being happy in my own skin rather feeling negative or minimal compared to the rest of society. And I just say, stop worrying quite as much as I do. Things become far more difficult if you worry too much. I worry a lot, which means I stop doing the work that I need to do because I am too busy worrying instead of getting on with it.

And more often than not on the other side everything worked out fine and I didn't realise why I worried in the first place, but if I could stop worrying in the beginning, I could get there much more quickly and I wouldn't have suffered heart problems and everything else as a result of being stupid.

Sam: Perhaps you’re little bit hard on yourself?

Howard: Yeah, well, I’ve got to do it because I don't want anyone else having the credit.

Sam: What have you had to work hardest at, to be a success at your job?

Howard: Timekeeping. It’s actually I think a good answer, because this is the problem with people doing PhDs or writing novels, or doing anything that you take passionately, you want it to be perfect, so you put far more time and effort into it than you need to. Whatever that might be, it might just be a simple report, but things like PhD or presentation at some big gathering you want it to be perfect so you put an inordinate amount of time and effort into it. Often for no real additional benefit. So timekeeping and sort of, don’t try to do everything. Be a bit more sensible and it will probably be fine.

Sam: How difficult has that been for you?

Howard: Very difficult – it’s a flippant answer and it’s a sensible answer.

It means that you try too hard where as you’re wasting some time in trying to make something perfect, it doesn’t need to be anyway and probably couldn’t be, when you can put that effort into something else.

The flippant answer was when I was working at UCL and come out at the end of my research fellow contract, I was invited to go on any personal development course I wanted to get me ready for my next job – fine. I applied for a time management course. I got an email or phone call back saying ‘sorry, you can’t go on that course, its fully booked, you’re too late.’

‘That is ridiculous. That proves that I should be on the course in the first place. Throw a few people out and get me on this course’.

They wouldn’t bend in the rules for me, even though I had a cast iron argument!

Sam: And what’s helped you?

Howard: Well, in the end you realise that it’s not going to be quite as difficult as you think. And what you’ve done is probably – it’s good enough.

But you also, whether you’re giving a presentation or you’re attending an interview or doing anything - there comes a point where you know, well there’s not much more I can do, I’ll just have to rely on a wing and a prayer or the fact that I’ve done enough preparation that I can now.

It’s the lap of the gods. And I take it from there instead of trying to do everything all day, every day, to be – to try and reach perfection.