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?
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