My Journey From Communicator to Caregiver and Back 

Posted by Amy Graham from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on November 7, 2017

I would guess that I’ve reviewed more than 100 patient education/caregiver materials in my career. But my greatest education and understanding of patients and caregiver needs came just this year. I experienced the best and worst of healthcare, and learned a great deal about myself and how I can use those experiences to be better at my job. I’d like to share a few examples and how we can apply them to our business of health communications.  

Words and Actions Matter


Words that we, as healthcare marketers, use frequently—and often without significant thought when it comes to how they resonate on varying levels with healthcare professionals, patients, and loved ones—can have far greater impact than many of us realize. 

Benign – In February, my significant other, Nile, went in for the removal of a benign tumor—a benign surgery for what was diagnosed as a benign tumor. “Benign”: I have come to hate that word and have vowed to never use it again. It is a terrible word that is misleading in so many ways. Even the thesaurus provides a set of imperfect synonyms—kind, benevolent, caring, gentle, nonthreatening. Nile had his benign tumor removed, but from that point on nothing that followed was benign. His tumor was removed, but a bug—E. coli to be exact—was lurking in the surgical suite and he acquired an infection. In our case, “benign” wasn’t at all benign.


Caregiver – They say that this is the person who provides direct care for an individual. But I realize how isolating and naïve that word can be. There was, and still is, a village that embodies Nile’s care team. This is a team of driven people who have helped to rebuild his mind, body and spirit, through a blend of expertise, skills, compassion and humor.


Advocate – That benign tumor removal now left Nile fighting for his life, and left me just fighting. There is much talk of needing an advocate to maneuver today’s healthcare environment. And while I like that an advocate is a champion for a cause, in the battle to fight a disease, you sometimes need more than an advocate. That is when I learned to be a warrior, a fighter for Nile’s cause—my cause—through systems and procedures and diagnostic approaches. It’s important that, as healthcare marketers to caregivers, we work to educate and empower people to know that it’s okay to strip away the sugar coating, and allow their warrior spirit to surface when needed. We are in fact doing battle with diseases, and patients might find that they need both an advocate and a warrior to succeed.

Kindness and help come in all shapes and sizes, and when you least expect it, a simple gesture might transform caregiver into being cared for. In opening up and allowing the nursing team to be our advocates, I found that I was freed up to be Nile’s warrior.

The Power of a Post-it – While he was in Intensive Care, Nile’s neurosurgeon gave me access to the doctors’ conference room for work calls. But to get there you had to pass through the back room of the nurses’ station. And there on the bulletin board was a Post-it note that read, “I’ll bring Amy tea because she won’t ask for it herself.” The impact of that three-inch yellow square stopped me in my tracks, and helped to remind me that the doctors and nurses tending to Nile weren’t just professionals caring for his physical needs, but compassionate individuals who understood that the loved ones of the patient may sometimes be in need of assistance, too. It reminded me that it was okay to ask for help, big or small. 


Care Packages – My contact lenses were in my eyes for 39 hours straight, and rather than finding a 24-hour pharmacy to purchase contact solution and a case, the nursing staff reached out to the charge nurse within the eye division to get solution and a case sent up to me. He also came bearing gifts from the supply room—a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, mouthwash, soap and socks. 

When marketing to these professionals, we should never fail to look at the materials we create with a lens that recognizes the caring people behind the scrubs and lab coats. They encounter patients and families at what are often the most trying times of those individuals’ lives, prompting many to go above and beyond what’s “prescribed” to ensure those in their care know that they are truly cared for

Learnings for Healthcare Communicators

1. How we communicate matters. Healthcare marketers have an opportunity to rethink who is at the receiving end of our communications and to influence the language that’s used. Lexicon is more than a buzz word, and we can use language as a tool to empower communications to be more representative of the story we’re telling and better arm patients/caregivers with the information they need to be fully informed as they move through their respective journeys.


2. If you ever find yourself in the position of either patient or caregiver, don’t hesitate to lean on others to be your advocate. Asking for help doesn’t come easily for many of us. But it’s often when you’re at your most vulnerable point that help is most needed. I will forever have a tender spot in my heart for those folks who not only cared for Nile, but also found a moment to take me into their care. As healthcare marketers, we have the unique opportunity to partner with advocacy groups and help drive a more honest conversation, allowing us to deliver better tools for our audiences.


3. Teachable moments are also learning moments. My experiences this year found me face-to-face with department heads and hospital CEOs, often doing battle. In expressing where they could do better, I also learned where I could do better. I have always thought of myself as a kind and caring person, but I’ve learned what empathy is truly all about. For me, empathy starts with walking in others’ footsteps, putting myself in their shoes and thinking about their needs above my own. I choose to keep the warrior that’s been ignited to do more, to do better—in my job and in my personal life. My battle for Nile’s well-being continues, but I’ve expanded my horizon and have accepted a Board position at the rehabilitation hospital as the patient champion. Heaven help them….


4. We, as healthcare marketers, all represent brand teams and companies, but in the end, we’re all working toward a common goal—the desire to help others. We may not get to speak about curing very often, but we can always speak about, and to, the immeasurable importance of caring.