How a cancer care team is like a design agency team – in my experience

By Keren Lerner
23rd May 2014

A workplace analogy

I run my own design agency (Top Left Design) and until recently this is generally how I am known. However, a recent cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment meant I am also now a patient. I had an emergency situation where my temperature went above 38 degrees which meant we called the emergency number, as instructed. Turns out it was more serious than I thought and I was admitted as an overnight patient. It was discovered that I had a blood clot in my neck caused by my port (surgically installed item in my neck and chest for chemotherapy administration) – so I also had surgery to remove the port and a regime of daily blood thinning injections. I was discharged the morning of my 7th chemo.

The care I got was excellent and I wanted to share some analogies between the cancer care nurses and doctors and my own experiences working with my amazing team at my agency.

Don’t burn your bridges

When I got my port removed due to the fact that it had been causing me troubles and complications so much, I noticed how extremely diplomatic the surgeon who took out my port was. He struck a very fine balance between explaining to me how these things are common, and the technique that had been used does mean there are more clots behind the jugular vein, but he never sounded malicious or like he was putting blame onto the original surgeon who installed the vein

Make the client comfortable

When dealing with people who are stressed, you mmay initially encounter suspicion or hostility from the patient. There is a certain skill to immediately putting someone at ease, avoiding even this initial negative behaviour. Some of the nurses I had I immediately warmed to. Others had the opposite effect – they just didn’t have the people skills.

Even if you hear from one person that a method will work, doesn’t mean someone else might not contracted them. I was told a certain canula would be fine for administering chemotherapy – but on the morning of chemotherapy my chemo nurse said that a 2 day canula was by no means suitable. As I knew him and had built trust with him, I knew hew cared genuinely and had experience specifically with administering the chemotherapy and doing all the hole poking – I decided he was the one to believe and asked for him to find a vein. Similarly in my industry – a certain method, design or code may be highly recommended but someone who has enough expertise and trust will be able to convince you otherwise.

Persevere – there is always a way if you try hard enough

So many times I thought to myself “well they’re running out of veins to try” but patiently let the nurses keep trying – they are good at their jobs. In my agency, we may run into problems, but there truly is always a way to achieve a successful solution. It’s definitely more stressful then when it’s plain sailing but feels so much sweeter when we make it.

Interruptions are sometimes for your own good

While in hospital I was being interrupted almost hourly to get my blood pressure checked, temperature taken, oxygen checked, and generally to chat about how I felt. I tried to not be annoyed but it didn’t help me sleep (and I was also working a bit from the hospital bed as I had deadlines to take care of). But it was in my best interest for them to closely monitor me.

When I am closely monitoring a project, or if we are regularly in touch with the client to keep a project moving, it’s best for all parties and the project doesn’t drag out become another one those things you still have to get around to. We wouldn’t nag people hourly – but we’re not curing cancer!

Be a certain type of person

Overall – the individuals who fulfill the following characteristics would do extremely well in both workplaces:

Knowledgeable – they need to be able to explain the “why” for so many decisions and choices

Confident – by being confident in their explanations they instill trust

Friendly – being friendly’s makes people more likely to warm to you even when you are doing annoying things like poking syringes into them or reminding them to send their decisions on the content that goes into a website.

Informed – when multiple people are dealing with one client and patient – it helps a LOT that they have all the details. IN the medical world they update the charts for each visit, and in our agency we keep centralised information for all clients – so any client asks for something we can easily find the information

Teamwork – getting along with your colleagues means you can help each other and ask advice even behind the scenes, so client/patience gets all the best combined intelligence and experience.

So that’s it. Analogy blog done! Your thoughts as always are most welcome!

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About the Editor

Keren Lerner
Keren Lerner is the founder of TLD and came up with the idea of this blog, which is used to show different types of blogs, for training and placing interesting topics and stories. All the posts on this site are edited by Keren but often you will see the credit is from someone else.