Paul Irving has been a friendly voice to patients for 16 years at our US Patient Response Center. Here, he tells about his passion for helping patients and reveals what it’s like to be at the other end of the line.
I began my career with GSK in 1988 as a bench scientist in R&D. My team worked to discover novel treatments for various conditions such as heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, obesity and diabetes. Losing my mother at a very young age forced me to understand the complexities of human disease. That loss fueled a lifelong passion for me to learn as much as I could and to make a tangible difference in the lives of those dealing with disease.
The stories about it taking 10 to 15 years to develop a new drug are painfully true. While in R&D, I tested millions of compounds, but there were no guarantees that any of them would ultimately become a medicine to enhance the quality of life. In my head I understood that my work laid the foundation for untold medical advances in the future, but in my heart I longed to make a more immediate impact on our ultimate customers, the patients who use our medicines.
Turning my passion for science into support for patients
My longing led me to GSK’s US Response Center, where I have worked for the past 16 years. I am one of 27 professionals, consisting of pharmacists, nurses, scientists and Patient Services Specialists who help patients address questions or concerns about GSK medications. It is a role that I love and cherish. In a typical day we handle approximately 525 contacts via phone, email, written correspondence and click-to-chat. I am responsible for responding to virtually any possible question for the 79 products and over 250 topics that a patient may call us about.
That’s a typical day, but not all are typical. Our days are influenced by what happens in the news. I recall a recent day when our team handled over 2100 calls – the most calls we have ever received in one day. We know that when GSK or a GSK product is in the news, whether it affects a patient or not, it is our opportunity to engage and inform those who call us.
Each day, I personally have the unique privilege of impacting up to 20 lives and with that purpose comes responsibility.
When I speak with patients taking our respiratory products, before they utter their first words, I can hear the wheezing and crackles as they struggle to take a deep breath. I calibrate my ears to hear through their breathlessness.
A friendly voice on the other end of the line
I do my best to match their surprisingly optimistic tone, while knowing full well that I may have to shed a tear, exhale, regain my composure, put on a smile and get ready for the next caller. Often, the conversation turns to their family history. I get to hear about their grandkids in college, towns in which they grew up or family members who have passed away. I know for some, I’m just a friendly voice on the other end of the line when they are having a lonely day.
Chances are, I may never talk with these patients again, but imagining what my mother must have gone through during her illness and talking with patients like her, reaffirms my zeal to come in to work every day. I know that I am in a unique position to help the company fulfil its mission to help patients do more, feel better and live longer – and to do that requires that I give my best. Every day and in every way.
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