A changing perspective

Perspective…we all have one, but have you ever had an experience that made you change your perspective? I recently had one of those moments at the 2017 Parenteral Drug Association (PDA) Annual Meeting I attended in May.

There were five plenary sessions with a nice mix of technology, science, processing tracks, and concurrent interest group sessions. Those sessions and tracks that I attended were extremely relevant and interesting and although not all the information applied to me, they opened my eyes to where technology is moving.

After attending a conference, I like to take some time to reflect on what part of the conference had the most impact on me personally and professionally. One session stood out for me, “Focus on the Patient.” I not only felt empathy for the speaker, but also pride for the industry that I work in.

What a wonderful feeling when you are left realizing how much you love what you do!

A little bit about the “Focus on the Patient” session

The speaker for the session was Suleika Jaoud, New York Times Columnist, Emmy Award Winning Writer, Health Advocate, and Cancer Survivor. Suleika was born in New York City to a Tunisian father and a Swiss mother. She graduated from Princeton University with honors in 2010, majoring in Near Eastern Studies and double minoring in Gender Studies and French. Her interests drove her to be very active in humanitarian rights, specifically studying abroad and writing about women’s issues.

Suleika spoke to the audience with such finesse and humility as she told her story.

Suleika’s life was interrupted at 22 when she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia. She was less than a year from graduating college when this “interruption” in her life happened. She began writing a column “Life, Interrupted” for the NY Times from the bone marrow transplant unit while fighting her battle. Today, she is in remission based upon 3 years of chemotherapy, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant – all of which led her to be a supporter and advocate for cancer patients.

The message

Suleika’s story definitely had the most impact on me at this conference and as I reflect back to her story and how it relates to me professionally, the biggest takeaway is her overall message: “Please don’t give up on pushing for new and more effective cures. Don’t stop traveling where the silence is. Your work has the potential to affect real lives and real people.”

Listening to Suleika, it was evident that she honored the health care providers that were part of her treatment plan and recognized that she would not be in remission if it were not for a life-saving clinical trial. Most importantly, she believed that it was the healthcare manufacturers’ and providers’ responsibility to make inroads into the most novel technologies to cure diseases.

A changed perspective

This perspective she now has from her experience has enhanced my own. Sometimes as scientists and engineers, we don’t see (or maybe we forget to see because of routine) how our work impacts the patient. We perform usability studies and/or clinical trials, but sometimes only focus on the product – not the patient who will be taking that product. There is no intention to ignore the patient’s interests, but there are many steps from initial discovery to distribution and commerce that often make the end-product for the patient seem nebulous.

It’s because of this that Suleika’s message to “Focus on the Patient” resonates so strongly with me. Not only has Suleika’s story enhanced my perspective but her story also reminded me of a few things:

  1. Be proud to be part of this industry. Although each of us has a different role, we all help to make a safe and efficacious product for the patient
  2. Give patients something worth fighting for (they are someone’s mother, father, spouse or child)
  3. Put effort where the science moves, even when barriers arise
  4. Think, not only tactically, but strategically and always look at the bigger picture
  5. Collaborate with others in the industry and be an advocate for the work
  6. Determine what the healthcare providers and patients need and exceed expectations

What do you think of Suleika’s story? Has it changed your perspective? I’d love to hear your thoughts!