Brigitte West

Brigitte West currently serves as the Executive Director of Product at DrDoctor, the UK’s leading patient engagement platform.

Here, she uses her wealth of experience from working at the forefront of healthcare technology in product strategy to lead the product, design and AI teams in building a more data driven, hybrid and efficient healthcare system.

Alongside her role at DrDoctor, Brigitte is an advisor to early-stage tech start-ups, sits on the board of trustees for the Resuscitation Council UK and runs a global network of 500 ‘Women in Health Technology’ leaders, bringing together change makers from across health tech to work together on the biggest healthcare challenges.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to work on things that have a social impact and this has very much influenced my decision making. I started my career in medical sciences but quickly realised the lab wasn’t the right environment  for me and I was more interested in how we could get research findings into practice and change health outcomes.

I ended up moving into tech, initially founding and growing a beauty tech start-up, but then moving to focus on health tech –  helping health-tech start-ups launch and scale their product offerings and working on national tech and data policy.

At DrDoctor, I lead a team of designers, product managers, engineers and analysts to drive the product roadmap and strategy. It’s an exciting space to be working in. Our platform is used by over 25 million patients in the UK, so we have a real opportunity to have a positive impact with the products we build and change the way healthcare is delivered in the UK. I find that incredibly motivating and rewarding.

I love all things health-tech so outside of work, I’m involved in a few health organisations on the side. Right now, I’m on the Board of Trustees for the Resuscitation Council in the UK, and I’m also a co-founder of Health Tech Hive network, which now has more than 500 female health-tech leaders in it. It’s incredibly inspiring to be around a group of like-minded women who are also passionate about products that genuinely impact health and well-being.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Over the years, I’ve increasingly applied product thinking to my career planning!  I have a clear vision of where I want to go over the next few years and I then break this down into more manageable goals for the next 12 months. Usually I do this at the start of the year and refine it every quarter. I used to be super rigid with the plan but I’ve learnt to be flexible on the details and change things as I learn more (and when things don’t go to plan!).

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I was in my early 20s, I co-founded a beauty tech start-up. But it didn’t work out. I put everything into it, and it was really hard to know when to quit. But knowing when to quit is actually a huge life lesson. For me, the biggest takeaway from doing this was to innovate in an area that you love – it’s easier to ride the highs and lows of innovation if you’re working on something that you really care about. That’s why I returned to health, where I applied everything I’d learnt running a tech start-up  but to an area I’m really passionate about.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

During the pandemic, I was working with Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation alongside a strong network of researchers and clinicians. We heard that many COVID-19 patients weren’t recovering from the virus as expected – and this was at the time when people were focused on vaccines and disease management, not recovery. People weren’t paying attention to “long COVID”, as it has since become known.

We worked with leadership in the NHS and as well as national policymakers to deliver a product to help people recovering from covid – offering advice, guidance and rehabilitation. We also worked on a national research programme looking into the longstanding effects of the illness. We created a WhatsApp line with respiratory services for support when until that point, patients didn’t have anywhere to go. We managed to secure £750,000 to fund and scale-up the offering, and were the first group of people to actually start talking about this, getting data and sharing it to drive forward our understanding and research. The impact was widespread and important to long COVID treatment.

At the same time, with respiratory in the spotlight in a way it hadn’t been previously, I capitalised on this and we set up a £5 million fund at Asthma UK with the National Institute for Health Research into the continued exploration and development of respiratory digital health products. This achievement wasn’t only an incredible learning experience, but it truly showed the impact of bringing the right people together. Being able to help millions of people continues to drive me at DrDoctor today.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I always follow my curiosity. I’ve crafted a career around healthcare technology because of genuine interest and excitement about how new tech and innovation can improve people’s health. Healthcare is complex and it’s hard scaling health tech products

In this industry, there are always different ways to solve one problem. You have to want to understand these different options – and be willing to trial and fail – in order to arrive at the product that delivers the greatest impact. You then have to see it through and believe that it has the potential to grow.  My curiosity in scaling products and solving complex health technology problems has carried me through the stages of my career and led me to where I am today.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

When talking to my mentees and teams, I encourage them to always try to work with good people who inspire them. It’s always worth dedicating time to finding the brilliant people working on important problems – both of which there is a surplus of in this industry.

I’d also advise individuals in tech to lean into the support, advice and heaps of resources available. There’s a strong sense of community in product, as people are constantly approaching problems in new ways and want to hear from people who might be able to share insight. The best product people are naturally curious and love a problem. Remember, you’re rarely the first to have faced that problem – it’s always worth asking, has anyone solved this yet or done something similar that we can learn from?

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

You just need to look at the statistics of product functions in technology organisations in the UK to know there are still barriers for women. Women still often struggle to make their voices heard in the rooms that they’re in, and this leads to a larger crisis around confidence.

I believe that we need to create the right cultures and environments to empower women in tech. This starts with organisations being aware of the barriers, and using this awareness to make changes. This can be achieved by building initiatives that offer good coaching and mentorship for women from women, as well as fostering networks that include men too. The Women Leadership Network at DrDoctor isn’t just made up of women, but is an overall guild that provides training, mentorship, and space for sharing issues around women in tech.

It’s also key for organisational policies to foster inclusive and diverse environments. We know that the best innovation comes from diverse experience, so organisations should be encouraging of hybrid structures that attract female talent. As well, they should create targeted initiatives around funding for training; many female-founded startups are still receiving less funding, and there’s more that organisations can do to support them than is currently being done.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of the careers of women working in technology?

The best thing you can do as an individual supporting women in tech is to go to bat for them. I’ve been in situations where I had to fight to get my ideas heard or for financial recognition, but I’ve always been lucky to have senior people backing me vocally. I knew I could trust them, because they also pushed me when I said I couldn’t do things or wasn’t ready for the next step.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d love to see more diverse boards representing women on senior leadership teams. It’s becoming more common for women to be at the very top, but the gap is still significant. Beyond equal pay and equal opportunity, frequently forgotten about is the importance of having women in decision-making positions. This not only helps diversify perspectives and improve business decision making, but it will encourage the next generation of female talent to strive for leadership positions. It’s hard to look at predominantly male senior leadership teams, boards or investment committees and imagine yourself breaking into it. Women need to see other women being encouraged and successful in the tech industry and from all different backgrounds too..

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I have to shout out my own network, the Health Tech Hive that keeps in touch via a Women in Health Tech WhatsApp group. We bring together a strong community of women in the industry to share their exciting innovations and future goals. We create events where founders, operators and investors can come together and discuss the future of healthcare. We’re all working toward the common goal of improving healthcare, and we operate under the mutual recognition that we can’t do it alone.

I’m also a part of the Women In Product and Voyagers Health Networks. I get so much from both, learning from  people working on similar problems and doing incredibly exciting things. The mutual mentorship and coaching is key, not only for inspiration, but as a sounding board and a source of information.

Outside of community networks, I recommend the following books: Empowered by Marty Cagan, Crossroads of Should and Must, The: Find and Follow Your Passion by Ella Luna, and Evidence Guided by Itamar Gilad. I find a lot of my inspiration from writers that channel passion into books that support the work I do. I also recommend Lenny’s Newsletter and podcast, as well as Product Talk, Reforge and Hustle Badger that all provide brilliant product resources.

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