Dr Kate Granger 1981 – 2016
Doctor, patient and founder of #HelloMyNameIs
Dr Kate Granger, who has died at the age of 34, was quite simply one of the most remarkable people I have ever met and a doctor who has permanently changed how I practise medicine.
Kate didn’t like “the I-word” (inspirational) and described herself as “just an ordinary Yorshire lass”. But this humility was typical of Kate, along with humour, honesty and determination. Those characteristics allowed her to launch a movement that has caught fire globally.
As she described in her books written in 2012, she was diagnosed while on holiday in 2011 with metastatic desmoplastic small-round-cell tumour, an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis.
The tumour relapsed in 2013, and there followed the incident that was to shape her legacy. When she was readmitted, Kate was seen by nurses and doctors – but the first person to introduce himself by name and rôle was Brian, the hospital porter.
She talked to her husband, Chris Pointon, about this and as she recalled two years later in her blog:
I had been moaning to Chris about the lack of introductions from the healthcare staff looking after me. Being the practical optimist that Chris is, he simply told me to “stop whingeing about it and if it is that important to you, to do something about it”. So we did.
Responding to her experiences, her patient followers on Twitter replied that similar things had happened to them. I was one of her healthcare followers: we felt that we usually introduced ourselves (probably, most of the time), but that it wasn’t universal.
Kate and Chris’s response was to begin a campaign on Twitter on 31st August 2013: #hellomynameis.
Describing the rationale behind the campaign, Kate wrote:
We decided to start a campaign, primarily using social media initially, to encourage and remind healthcare staff about the importance of introductions in healthcare.
I firmly believe it is not just about common courtesy, but it runs much deeper. Introductions are about making a human connection between one human being who is suffering and vulnerable, and another human being who wishes to help. They begin therapeutic relationships and can instantly build trust in difficult circumstances.
The impact of this this simple idea has been extraordinary. Over 400000 healthcare staff have committed to using “hello, my name is…” as their standard opening line, as individuals and as organisations and as part of NHS Change Day
The reach has been international too, spreading to Wales (with an official Welsh translation, #HeloFyEnwIYdy), Scotland and Ireland, to Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA. Kate’s simple idea gained support from politicians, from Dr Don Berwick of the IHI, the team at Virginia Mason Institute and many celebrity endorsements (on the #HelloMyNameIs website).
As the next round of chemotherapy kept the tumour in check, Kate was determined to return to work as a registrar in elderly care medicine, applying the same determination in her daily work that she showed in starting #HelloMyNameIs. She completed her training in late 2014.
What had started as a small campaign by “an ordinary Yorkshire lass” drew attention from the ‘great and good’ in UK healthcare. She was awarded the President’s Medal of the British Geriatric Society, her specialist society. In June 2014, she became (at 32) the youngest ever Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London (FRCP), and the only junior doctor in 500 years to be awarded the Fellowship:
and was awarded Fellowship of the Edinburgh College later in 2014. In the 2015 New Years Honours List, she was awarded a MBE for services to healthcare.
Through all this, she retained her humility and remained unafraid to tell things as they were, on her blog and on Twitter. She was also committed to raising money for Yorkshire Cancer Centre, taking part in runs and even a skydive to contribute to their work. At the time of her death on 23rd July 2016, she had raised over £250,000.
So how did Kate change me?
When I started on Twitter in 2011, I became aware of Kate quite quickly, and I was struck by her pathos, honesty and humour.
We talked on Twitter about her work, and then inevitably about her cancer. When Kate was readmitted in 2013, I was there for the beginning of #hellomynameis.
Kate and I talked honestly about her condition, and at different points she was in pain, upset, hurt, terrified by her experiences (which involved surgery, chemotherapy and post-op & post-chemo sepsis) and elated at what she has achieved in spite of her illness. She remained determined to die well (her Bucket List was impressive!) and passionate about teaching, about the NHS and about developing care. Even in the last few months, she tweeted in support of junior doctors facing contract changes, under the BMA’s hashtag, #NotFairNotSafe. She did not ease up but conducted a #HMNITour, spreading the word to local hospitals around the UK. At my hospital, out lecture theatre was standing room only.
I was glad when (at my and Dr Damian Roland’s suggestion), she presented her work at the International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare in Paris in 2014, where she also met Dr Don Berwick:
Kate reminded me just how much you can get done in such a short space of time if you live life fully; but also that the things that have made the biggest difference have not been the “clever stuff” but the little things:
- introducing yourself to the patient by name and role every time: #HelloMyNameIs
- being aware of what the patient may want and, for example, that they may prefer to sleep (when going round with tea/coffee or cleaning)
- listening to the patient – what is troubling them? Ask, “what matters to you?, and see the person behind the disease
Kate may not have liked being called “inspirational”, but others were inspired and challenged by her. My ongoing response will be to honour her memory by using her simple approach, every day with every patient.
“Hello, my name is Philip Pearson, one of the respiratory consultants. How are you? What matters to you?”
Dr Kate Granger MBE FRCP FRCPEd, 1981 – 2016
Apart from her books, Kate supported the Yorkshire Cancer Centre, encouraging people to donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Kate-Granger
She passed away at St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds, which provided excellent palliative care for her in her last few days.
If you can, please give something (no matter how small) in her memory.
Thank you for reading.