You must have a patient-centric view in medical communications says Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Stuart Baker
19th March 2014
With a strong family history of working in the health sector, Stuart Baker, head of medical knowledge group at PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says it was probably inevitable that he would end up in this sector too: “I come from a family with a strong interest in health – my grandfather was a medical researcher at Guy’s Hospital in London, my mother is a physiotherapist and my sister is an occupational therapist. Maybe it’s in our genes? Whatever the reason, pursuing a career that would have a positive impact on people’s health seemed an obvious choice for me.
“I toyed with the idea of medicine before deciding on a degree in physiology at The University of Edinburgh. In my final year I was privileged to work with an inspiring supervisor who was doing some interesting work trying to figure out exactly how ovaries work; research that could help improve the odds for fertility treatment and the management of certain diseases. Having won a year’s research grant I was invited to stay on, and then after some successes and publications more funding came enabling me to complete a doctorate.”
Despite having a passion for understanding the human body, Baker realised that ultimately, his talent lay in communicating: “If I’m honest I was at best average in the lab. But what I found I was good at was the communication side of things: teaching undergrads, writing papers, speaking at conferences and so on.
“Immediately after finishing my PhD an unexpected move to Australia gave me the opportunity to reassess my career and shortly after I moved into healthcare communications where I have stayed ever since.”
Describing his first few jobs, Baker says: “Initially I worked as a medical writer for a medical education company called OCC, before joining the healthcare PR practice within Hill+Knowlton’s Sydney office. Back then medical education and healthcare PR were seen as very different beasts with little overlap, which having lived in both worlds seemed strange to me. Surely the goal of both camps was to inform and educate healthcare professionals and patients to ultimately improve patient outcomes?”
Baker says his first big break came in 2006 when he joined a fledgling agency called ZEST, which he describes as having a “fresh, ballsy, approach to healthcare communications” in Australia. He explains: “Here I was able to try new things without getting hung up about what was med ed and what was PR, creating programs that crossed multiple channels and audiences. Things then got really exciting when we added patient outreach into the mix with nurses on staff talking to real live patients! It was at ZEST that my philosophy for healthcare comms crystallised: always put the patient at the centre of everything.”
Since leaving H+K, Baker had remained in contact with his old boss Sue Cook, who had headed up the APAC healthcare team but is now MD of H+K Strategies’ Healthcare business and the Medical Knowledge Group (the medical education arm) in the London office. It was through Cook that Baker heard of the opportunity to head up the MKG team, which he leapt at: “The lure of Sydney’s golden beaches were no match for the opportunity to work with Sue again and have exposure to global accounts, but most of all to bring my ‘patient-centric’ view of medical communications to the talented MKG team.
“Over the years the programmes I have developed for patients and the healthcare professionals who look after them have had a direct impact on people’s treatment journey. I am proud of the work my team delivers; I truly believe what we do makes a difference which makes you feel good about coming to work every day.”