4th January 2024
In this series of podcasts, we explore the skills and mindset required to lead in the world of health and medicine. Through conversations with women from a range of leadership roles, we cover everything from career pathways and leadership styles to defining career moments.
This episode features Dr Claudia Gore, who has worked as a consultant in paediatric allergy at St Mary’s Hospital since 2009, where she now leads the adolescent allergy service. Claudia joins us to share more about her career in the NHS, reflecting on her journey thus far and offering advice to those who are looking to begin their career in healthcare.
Claudia’s career journey
“As a teenager, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It was going to be between art and medicine, and after some thinking and reality checks, I thought, well, maybe I better go for medicine, because I can always have art as a hobby, whereas the other way around doesn’t really work. And of course, little did I know that once you become a doctor, for many years, it’s actually quite hard to have a hobby because it can be all-consuming. So yes, the art bit has fallen by the wayside a little bit more than I anticipated.
I went to University in Germany, and in the last year at uni in Germany, you can go abroad, but with the way the regulations were, I had to do my junior doctor period in Europe. And I figured, well, why not go to the United Kingdom…Life didn’t take me much further because I met my husband so I stayed. And I mean, your postgraduate career, of course, you think you’re going to do X – I thought I was going to be a paediatric surgeon, and then when I met my husband, I thought well, maybe that’s not quite so easy to marry up as it were, so I decided to go into paediatric medicine instead, and haven’t regretted it… And then came the research, which I sort of fell into here in the UK.
So I didn’t end up where I thought I would end up and I didn’t quite do what I thought I would end up doing. And that really goes on. I hadn’t planned to go into paediatric allergy, that came about one day when I sat in a clinic. I was covering an allergy clinic, and in front of me was a mum with a three-year-old and she said, “Oh, the eczema is really terrible today.” And this child sat on the chair and she pulled off the socks and the child’s feet were bleeding and it was really horrible. And I thought, oh, gosh, maybe here’s a population that I might want to help. And I ended up doing a PhD in paediatric allergy, studying eczema in infants, and then got the only training post at the time for paediatric allergy in the country.”
Claudia’s leadership style
“I think enthusiastic and persistent, and I’d like to think inclusive, because the core groups I really like working with are when we’ve got lots of different professions in the room working together towards a common purpose. And also, if it’s clinical, if we can get patients and families involved as well. And I’ve had a number of opportunities to work in very diverse settings with people from whom I can learn a lot from… So, yes, enthusiastic and inclusive, I’d say.”
The value of storytelling
“In 2016, I had a quite life-changing email come through to my inbox where NHS England had commissioned a series of digital storytelling workshops for NHS staff, and somebody suggested to me, “Oh, Claudia, might that be something for you, you could tell your story.” And I thought, well, I haven’t got a story to tell. And the other person said to me, “Don’t be daft. Everyone has a story to tell.” So I thought, okay, well, let me go for it. And I did this digital storytelling workshop with Patient Voices, a not-for-profit, and told my own story. And as I was doing this three-day workshop, I thought, oh, my goodness, I need to just make this happen for my patients, I want to hear my patients’ voices.
So I was so lucky that when I approached the Imperial Health Charity with that proposal, they funded the first round of Terrific Teens! storytelling workshops, and the first one was with serious allergies. So they were mostly patients from our service, and some of them were people I really thought I knew very well. And they were defining in a way that you hear and you experience so much more when you get the output from a three-day residential digital storytelling workshop which is all about the person telling. So everyone told their story. And what I realised when I saw some of the stories and listened to them was how little I actually knew about people I thought I knew quite a bit about and it was really quite life-changing and practice-changing.
So, yeah, it’s really changed things. And with that, the charity then supported further workshops. So in total, we managed to get 36 stories from young people, parents, and also from siblings, which were all done in parallel. So each group had their own settings so that everyone could feel free to actually talk about what they wanted to talk about. And those stories have been so helpful to also show others what matters to people, and it’s just such an amazing resource to bring lived experience.”
“So one thing that I really find very difficult is dealing with conflict. So there’s conflict with families that I look after which can usually be resolved, and I think it’s often about communication, it’s often also about language and cultural communication, and that tends to be resolvable. And with time, I’ve become really very aware of the way that even though we all speak English, we actually culturally use the language in a very different way, and that can lead to fundamental misunderstandings quite easily. So I think I’ve overcome that simply by learning and working in a very diverse setting. I’ve worked in different countries as well, so that’s really been helpful.
When you have conflict in teams, that’s really difficult because the dynamics are different because we work together all the time, and we have to reflect on who we are and how we might be perceived. So it’s a much more introspective process as well that you have to learn to help sort that one out. And I think in the end, sometimes when there’s conflict, you have to go and ask for help. Because when you sit in it quite deeply, and you have several people who are really sitting in it deeply, it may not be possible to lift yourself out. And that’s something that was important to learn, to know when to ask for help from somebody else who’s not in the situation.
And you can do all sorts of conflict resolution training. But you have to go through the process, really, I think, to really learn what to do with it.”
Advice for anyone starting their career in the NHS
“Make time for lunch. I spent years and years running around stuffing a sandwich in my mouth whilst I was going to the next job, not sitting down for a moment, not talking to anyone, and you’re constantly on the hoof and you don’t take 10 minutes out for yourself. If you learn that early, and you make time for lunch, then it really sets you up to not burn out so easily, because being able to say, I need 10/15 minutes for myself and I’m going to take it is quite a skill that not that many people who work in the NHS have. And you will be better for it. You’ll be just better for it. You’ll connect better with other people, and you deserve it. You know, being a doctor in the NHS does not mean you have to absolutely sacrifice everything that makes you feel physically and also mentally better. So I would say always make time for lunch, take a breath.”