Kate Downey talks about changing career direction and embracing patient engagement

Change was coming

There was a pivotal moment that took place ten years into my career in pharma, when I first met someone with ‘Patient Advocacy’ in their job title. Prior to this, I had been out in the field; in sales and training roles, along with quite a few years working in Professional Relations.

One day, while at a team meeting, I watched a patient advocacy manager interview someone living with an auto-immune condition. I was deeply affected by hearing about this individual’s journey and I thought how rewarding it must be to hear first-hand from patients about their experiences and, ultimately, the difference our work can make to their lives.

I reflected more on this encounter – the patient’s story had really stayed with me – and I realised it was time for a change of direction. I wanted to work more directly with patients and get closer to the communities we serve.

I was fortunate enough to join a small, rare disease focused company, in a hybrid role working with a patient group which supports people with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The first time I met someone with PAH, I knew I had made the right decision – her incredible resilience throughout her convoluted path to diagnosis, and then living day-to-day with a devastating long-term condition, was both inspiring and galvanising. I haven’t looked back since!

Passion for the role

Talking with patients still has a profound effect on me – it is a privilege to be able to meet patients and listen to their incredible personal journeys. Each person has a unique story, from which there is so much we can learn. I am also hugely inspired by the relentless dedication of the patient advocacy groups we work with.

At Janssen, I am proud to work alongside people who are so committed to championing the voices and needs of patients, and to be part of an organisation that genuinely seeks to understand the patient experience and strives to act on what we hear.

Advice to others

There is no single route into patient engagement – everyone in our team has had a different career and this is a good thing! Diversity in a patient engagement team is particularly important, not least because we work so closely with people who have different conditions, backgrounds and experiences.

A flexible mindset is a bonus – there is huge variety in the work we do. Operating across multiple therapy areas means meeting patient groups, patients and caregivers, as well as working with colleagues from across the company.

Empathy and adaptability are also great assets, because one minute you can be on a call with a patient group partner, or perhaps a patient whose condition is really getting them down and then, the next minute, you have to jump into an internal strategic planning meeting.

Prioritising the patient

Above all, you must remember to keep patients at the heart of everything you do. Patient engagement is no longer a ‘nice to do’. Today, patient insights inform decision-making and help to shape a wide range of activities and solutions – so representing the voice of patients will mean you are in high demand!

Whoever you are working with, be it internal or external stakeholders, the priority will always be to act purposefully on the things that can positively impact, and ultimately improve, the lives of patients.

Kate Downey is Patient Engagement Lead at Janssen UK.
Go to janssen.com/uk