And What Do You Do for a Living?

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Recently, my colleagues and I were chatting (and laughing) about how we describe what we do on a daily basis. In general, we found that the honest response of “I work on the Advocacy team at a healthcare communications firm” is frequently met with blank stares and polite, but quick exits to the nearest bathroom (or anywhere far, far away from where we were just having a friendly conversation).

People just don’t “get” advocacy. What is it? Do we organize Fun Runs? Operate Kickstarter fundraising sites? Persuade patients to buy our clients’ products? (The answer is no!)

My team has a slide that we sometimes use with new pharma clients to help them understand what advocacy at Discovery really means, and how it could be introduced or enhanced to impact their own company goals and values. It reads: “We focus on providing nontraditional ways to engage with communities that use and influence the use of healthcare products, and on engaging in collaborative endeavors to address unmet needs and support all partners’ goals.”

Yep, that’s true. And it (hopefully) makes sense to those who work in pharma or in organizations like ours. But maybe for the average Joe, you know – that nice new friend you were chatting up last weekend – maybe we boil it down to something a little more straightforward. How about: “I work with pharmaceutical companies and advocacy groups to empower patients and communities to advocate for their own health care.”

Well…we’re getting warmer – as in, maybe an eyebrow raise and a follow-up question or two -- but my guess is our new friend would still be casually looking for the EXIT sign, or worse, planning a full-on Houdini (complete disappearance) while you turn to refresh your drink.

So what IS it? What is advocacy? For me, as a Scientific Director, it’s looking at and considering different points of view; it’s listening to patients and their caregivers and making their voices a part of the larger conversation; it’s working with pharmaceutical companies to find ways for them to reach those communities where their drugs and devices can truly change lives; it’s paying attention to what’s going on in the US healthcare system and globally; it’s analyzing the current landscape, both competitively and compassionately, and figuring out how we can impact it; it’s looking outside of my comfortable little world, and trying to better someone else’s. 

Now I wonder who would walk away from that? 


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DEB Roney

Associate Scientific Director
Scientific communicator with the soul of a writer. Dedicated patient advocate. Firm believer that not all who wander are lost.

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