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How women are shaping future of healthcare

Madeleine Harris Smith

On International Women’s Day we ask four leading figures in health policy to give us their view of how the landscape is changing to reflect the world we live in and the priorities we face.

The health landscape is changing. And not just in our systems of care, the funding of our healthcare system or the medicines and technologies that we use to treat disease and illnesses. While the impact of gender inequality on healthcare is still significant (not least in the women missing from clinical trials), as we welcome in International Women’s Day 2018, there are some important milestones for us to celebrate, including:

  • The majority of the UK’s world-renowned medical royal colleges are now led by women
  • 43 per cent of doctors are women, as are the majority of medical trainees, and almost 80 per cent of non-medical health service staff are women
  • First woman made CEO of a FTSE 100 pharmaceutical company in the UK
  • Femtech points to women’s needs being put back at the centre of health, from pelvic floor exercisers to menstrual tracking apps

In 2018, IWD focuses on #PressforProgress. We spoke to four women who are blazing trails in technology, pharmaceuticals, patient groups and professional societies. Here are their tips on getting involved in health, and predictions for the most exciting advancements in the health landscape.

Maxine Mackintosh
Co-founder of One HealthTech

  1. Why did you choose to get involved in the health sector?
    I’ve always been into science, but not very selectively. I had particularly awesome biology and chemistry teachers, and realised I quite like people-science, but didn’t like people enough to be a doctor.
    Therefore, I studied Biomedical Sciences at UCL as an undergrad, mostly doing Neuropharmacology, and after that studied a Health Economics/Health Policy Masters at the LSE and LSHTM, so I was always pretty much set to be health. I’m now doing a PhD at the intersection of dementia/data science but in my gaps have done some really fun jobs including an investment fund at the Royal Society, working with the CTO in Roche and working in L’Oreal’s scientific team.
  2. What is the most significant change (or changes) that you’ve seen in the health sector since the start of your career to the present day?
    The frequency, expectation and imprecision with which AI is used.
  3. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress – what advice would you give young women who are starting out their careers in your industry?
    You can change culture from within, more effectively than standing outside. So my bit of advice would be to be absolutely confident in yourself and your beliefs and views, whilst being cognisant of the gaps in your knowledge. As millennials, digital natives, generation X,Y, Z (who even knows anymore!), you are the users of the future. Healthtech definitely does feel like it’s the wave at the moment, so a very exciting time for ANYONE to throw their hat in the ring see what this healthtech malarkey is all about.
    And obviously the best way to do that is go to your local One HealthTech meetup and meeting all the lovely, fun and awesome One HealthTech community!
  4. What is your prediction for the most exciting opportunity/advancement that will change the health landscape over the next few years?
    Tangible and concrete ways to start to create the foundations for disease prevention, through both data and delivery mechanisms. Firstly, while we don’t know what we cannot measure, the data sitting in the social determinants of the health arena is now being sourced from the right places. Data that sits outside the healthcare service (in organisations like Google, TfL, Tescos) is, by definition, exactly the sort of data we should be looking at for prevention.
    Secondly, the delivery, as an important and exciting rise in social prescribing. Loneliness, isolation, boredom – these things kill! Building hyperlocal communities that are warm and supportive would be absolutely transformational to the health and wellbeing of people in the future.

You can change culture from within, more effectively than standing outside. So my bit of advice would be to be absolutely confident in yourself and your beliefs and views, whilst being cognisant of the gaps in your knowledge 

Emily Crossley
Co-founder and joint CEO of Duchenne UK

  1. Why did you choose to get involved in the health sector?
    I didn’t choose to get involved in the health sector. I shouldn’t be here really. This wasn’t the turn my life was supposed to take.
    I used to be a correspondent and presenter for Channel 4 News and CNN. I was married with two beautiful children, and life was very good. Then – one day out of the blue, my first-born child was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He was three. Duchenne is the most common genetic killer of boys – it’s a disease that mainly affects boys. It’s caused by a mutation on the dystrophin gene – the largest gene in the body – which creates a protein that protects our muscle cell. Without it, muscle cells die.
    What did that moment of diagnosis do to us as a family? To me, it was like a cluster bomb going off – the initial devastating impact, and then the continued explosions that continue to break my heart every minute of every day.
    But even in that abject pit of despair and grief, we knew we had a choice; to be defined by Duchenne and what it would do, or to be defined by our reaction to it. In that moment, our reaction was to fight. So my husband and I set up a charity – now called Duchenne UK – which was co-founded with my incredible friend Alex Johnson.
  2. What is the most significant change (or changes) that you’ve seen in the health sector since the start of your career to the present day?
    There are two: The first is the advancement of gene therapy treatments for DMD to the clinic. In 2014 we helped support pre-clinical work for the Solid Biosciences gene therapy programme. The company was given approval by the FDA last year to start clinical trials. This is a huge leap forward and one that gives me great hope.
    The second is Project Hercules, a unique international multi-stakeholder collaborative project spearheaded by Duchenne UK. It’s working to develop tools and evidence to support Health Technology Assessments and reimbursement decisions for new treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). The aim of HERCULES is for companies to collaborate on building such models, to save time, money and ensure that the collaboration speeds up access for patients.
  3. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress – what advice would you give young women who are starting out their careers in your industry?
    This year’s theme goes to the heart of what you need for success as a woman; it’s not a magic formula. It comes down to one simple word: resilience – the strength to get up every day and fight the fight.
    Imagine the unimaginable: for every ‘yes’ you get, you will get a hundred ‘nos’. Don’t let the ‘nos’ stop you.
  4. What is your prediction for the biggest/most exciting opportunity or advancement that will change the health landscape over the next few years?
    We are looking forward to seeing the results of the Gene Therapy trials currently taking place and about to go into clinic. We are also excited about our work on running repurposed trials – and this is an area where we hope to see real progress.
    We are excited about launching our new clinical trial tracker website, the DMD Hub website, which will give families well written, clear and reliable information on where to access research opportunities in the UK. We are continuing to grow our DMD Hub, expanding clinical trial capacity for DMD trials and hope that this idea can be used in other disease areas.

But even in that abject pit of despair and grief, we knew we had a choice; to be defined by Duchenne and what it would do, or to be defined by our reaction to it

Professor Wendy Burn
President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

  1. Why did you choose to get involved in the health sector?
    I decided I wanted to become a doctor when I was two and never changed my mind. Both my parents were doctors.
  2. What is the most significant change (or changes) that you’ve seen in the health sector since the start of your career to the present day?
    The change from a very paternalistic style of care to one in which collaboration with the patient is key. This may be linked to the feminisation of medicine.
  3. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress – what advice would you give young women who are starting out their careers in your field?
    Barriers still remain; however, things have changed for women and it is perfectly possible for them to achieve in the same way that men do now. I had a family and still made it to the top; the multi-tasking skills you develop as a working mother are invaluable.
  4. What is your prediction for the biggest opportunity or most exciting advancement that will change the health landscape over the next few years?
    Neuroscience is advancing rapidly. Maybe not in the next few years, but in the working lives of psychiatrists in training now we will understand the biological basis of some of the illnesses that we treat. This makes it an exciting time to choose psychiatry as a career.

The change from a very paternalistic style of care to one in which collaboration with the patient is key. This may be linked to the feminisation of medicine

 

DR Priya Agrawal
Executive Director of Vaccines and Women’s Health at MSD

  1. Why did you choose to get involved in the health sector?
    Many of us take good health for granted until it’s gone or taken from us. In countries I have worked around the world, I have seen how poor health pulls children from school, young adults from following their purpose and others into bankruptcy. I knew early on that I wanted to make a difference and have a significant impact on others; the health sector seemed the obvious choice, so I went to medical school and became an obstetrician and gynaecologist as an entry point.
  2. What is the most significant change (or changes) that you’ve seen in the health sector since the start of your career to the present day?
    Wow so much, as the pace of change in the health sector has not been any slower than in other industries like technology and digital. Some examples include:
    • Decoding the human genome which will now enable personalised medicine by technologies that allow personal genetic testing eg 23andMe
    • Exponential increase in access to information via internet that enables patient engagement in and ownership of their own health and use of co-peers eg PatientsLikeMe
    • Significant advance in medical knowledge which doubles almost every year and is predicted to double every 83 days soon which means that no healthcare professional can know everything even in their own specialty area
    • Digital and technological advances that allow for virtual surgery and appointments, operations we didn’t think were possible, remote education and so on.
  3. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress – what advice would you give young women who are starting out their careers in your industry?
    There is nothing you cannot do once you set your heart on it. Forget gender barriers that existed before. Set your heart on a purpose that drives you, not a job. We cannot predict what kind of jobs will exist in the future so follow your purpose and choose the opportunity that best allows you to fulfil it. I went from being a doctor in the UK to a public health professional to the world of academia to being a social and digital entrepreneur in the slums of Nairobi to leading a large global corporate social responsibility initiative out of MSD and now a commercial role.
  4. What is your prediction for the biggest/most exciting opportunity or advancement that will change the health landscape over the next few years?
    Data, AI, technology – it’s already changing the landscape but as we harness it more, the faster we will advance healthcare. Even just in the pharma industry, data and digital technology could allow us to do faster trials so we can get innovations to those who need them quicker; could allow us to predict those that will benefit most from our medicines so helping us to target; drones or other could simplify distribution of our medicines and vaccines to those who we find hard to get to; AI could help providers use our innovations more appropriately. This is just the start …. watch this space!

Health is one of life’s most critical enablers. It allows us to fulfill our potential, realise our dreams and ambitions and love and love our life to the max

Editor’s note: Some answers have been edited for length or clarity