Meet the Collective: Hi, Leigh

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Meet the Collective is our series highlighting the great people who make up Collective Health. Today, we’re sitting down with Leigh Stewart, Director of Content Marketing.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Ireland and spent my adolescence in France. But I’ve moved quite a bit, I’ve also lived in Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

What happened in your career that led you to Collective Health?

I spent the past seven years building out consumer and clinician content in the field of preventive medicine and digital health, specifically DNA and microbiome testing. During this time, I basically had an epiphany and discovered my vocation: to help people understand their health and their bodies. Collective Health is a natural progression for me because it gives me the opportunity to stretch my communication muscles in a new and exciting way.

After years of explaining medical terminology and microbiology, I now get the chance to explore a different facet of human health: helping people navigate the incredibly complex healthcare system. Every single one of us could benefit from better health and the idea of Collective Health building a digital ecosystem to address these issues really resonated with me. I believe that this innovative approach to healthcare will help us, as a society, to transition from treating conditions to preventing them.

What excites you most about where Collective Health is going?

There are so many really exciting new digital technologies and I love that Collective Health is bringing them to a wider population. From my background in the biomedical field, I could really see how Collective Health’s mission intersected with my experiences in preventative health.

Technologies like those in a coherent and user-friendly framework like this allow you to cut costs while getting people the care they need at the right time. Deploying more and better technology with a human touch also greatly increases access to care and health equity, which I’m passionate about.

What’s an example from your career (or personal) that really showed to you that we needed to think about and approach healthcare differently?

I was sick as a teenager and had appendicitis that wasn’t treated in time. The delay in getting care is likely what resulted in a serious post-op complication that also required surgery: a small bowel obstruction caused by abdominal adhesions. At the time, I was told it might happen again, and, being a teenager, I didn’t think any more about it, until a decade later. Then, working as an expat in a foreign country, I was rushed into surgery for the third time… And this after years of having my chronic abdominal pain dismissed by doctors as a million other things from irritable bowel syndrome, psychosomatic symptoms, food allergies, and more.

It’s a shame that healthcare systems don’t place nearly enough emphasis on quality of life. During those times, I was rarely free from pain, which restricted my ability to live life fully as a young person, but my concerns were regularly dismissed, in part because there was no incentive to address them.

These experiences, which happened in several countries across multiple healthcare systems, confirmed my suspicions that, around the world, we need to think about healthcare in a more humane and human-centric way. It’s not just about the physical symptoms, it’s about the lived experience, the reduction in quality of life, and the other, less obvious challenges that come with ill health. This is also what brought me to Collective Health: a holistic approach that takes into account more than just test results.

Collective Health brings together a suite of tools that give people more opportunities – new technologies, behavioral health and wellbeing apps – to help with those kinds of things. Plus, amazing Member Advocates to help guide people on their health journey! This holistic approach is so important to improving the healthcare experience and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?

It is very important to build professional environments that encourage every member of the team to thrive and find joy in their work. I don’t believe in top-down management, the best teams are those that work humbly and openly in support of one another. Ultimately, I aim to foster ego-free working relationships where we can all share our ideas, deliver feedback, and have candid discussions.

Working in digital content, especially in healthcare, I think that the atmosphere you work in has an effect on the end product. It’s not uncommon for unhappy, burn-out writers to let that stress seep into their work (and understandably so!), whereas happy, healthy content teams infuse their writing with a spark of joy and enthusiasm.

Approaching work in that way gives you the headspace to really think about your audience and create content experiences that add value to the world (and the Internet).

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?

I like riding horses at high speeds over obstacles and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Horse-riding is often seen as both “easy” and “elite”. For me, it’s neither of those things. Growing up on a farm, a horse really wasn’t much different to cattle – except that I could ride it (cows aren’t as comfortable). It’s also a sport that engages the brain, body and senses, forcing you to overcome your fears and master each precise movement, while engaging in a meaningful way with an animal that doesn’t have the power of speech.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How does that inform what you do today?

As the child of a dairy farmer, I grew up around animals and I wanted to be a vet because I had (and still have) great empathy for these beautiful creatures that can’t express pain in a way that most humans can understand. I think as I got older, I came to understand that, as humans, we go through something very similar. We may have the words to express physical ailments but most of the time, we take our health experiences, bottle them up, and end up living in a way that is disconnected from our bodies. Even more so when our experiences are not met with empathy by healthcare providers.

No matter how loving and caring the environment we are in, being seriously or chronically ill can be incredibly isolating. Often, it’s uncomfortable and awkward to talk about the symptoms and the toll it takes on your mental health as a patient, even though health is so central to every other aspect of our lives – our personal relationships, our finances, and our daily choices (even things as simple as leaving the house to buy groceries). Unlike animals we may have voices, but we too are not able to fully express ourselves when it comes to our health. Now, I hope to empower people with knowledge and tools to advocate for themselves, for their health, and that of their loved ones.

Hidden talents or lack of talents?

Well, I speak lots of languages, not just English, but French, Russian, and “Cat” fluently. As someone who has worked remotely for many years already, I spend a lot of time with my rescue kitties, catching up on the weather and asking them where they’ve hidden my pens.

Fun fact about me:

My full name is Leigh-Ann but I ended up dropping the hyphen and the Ann because I’ve mostly lived overseas and nobody could say it. In fact, I’m not exactly sure either when the “-Ann” got tacked on to the “Leigh”, but it was before I learned to talk. Because Leigh is a unisex name, my main theory is that, perhaps I was an ugly baby and my mother got tired of telling people I was girl and not a boy?! To be honest, I am also confused by my name and not even sure what is correct at this point.

Favorite Movie: Apocalypse Now
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her
Hometown:
Fethard (Ireland) and Limoges (France)

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