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Getting to know our Chief Patient Officer Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.

The role of Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D., our Chief Patient Officer, is to ensure that the patient is at the centre of everything Pfizer does. Her patient-centric approach has been shaped by years of experience working in public health as well as the third sector.

 

In early 2020, Dara provided insight into her goals for the newly established position and the mark she hopes to leave on the world.

 

What interested you in the CPO role at Pfizer?

Pfizer’s longstanding history of innovation and breakthroughs. As a physician, whose family and patients’ lives have been enhanced, extended or even saved by biopharmaceuticals and most importantly, as a 23-year-and-counting breast cancer survivor who is alive and well today because of ‘breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,’ Pfizer has always been a company whose mission I believe in fully.

As a breast cancer survivor, you’ve seen the medical profession from both sides of the bench. What kinds of things did you learn, as a patient, that have influenced you as a physician and now as CPO?

From a physicians’ standpoint, it is so important to have the empathy, the focus, and also to make sure you’re listening to and hearing what your patients are or are not saying. Because when you get a diagnosis, irrespective of who you are, it puts you in a different mindset. And you need to have people around you who are there to kind of kick in when you might not be able to make the best decisions.

As a medical professional, I’m excited about how far we’ve come in treating cancer and other chronic health conditions, and I’m certainly optimistic and excited about what’s to come with the advances that are being made, how we recruit people for clinical trials, how we engage patients in research and how we’re really focusing on patients and their needs. I’m excited about this new wave of patient centricity, so that we can really make sure that we’re getting the scientific knowledge and information that we need, while also interacting with patients in a way that adds value to their lives.

What excites you most about your new role?

My role at Pfizer provides me with the opportunity to continue doing what I love—enhancing health and healthcare by working collaboratively with brilliant colleagues, patients, caregivers, community partners, and others. Together, I’m excited to identify, develop and implement creative and innovative ideas and solutions designed to maximise patient safety, ensure that patients’ voices are heard, increase diversity in clinical trials and overcome barriers to accessing quality and affordable health care.

I am also working to ensure that Pfizer is the most patient-centric company. On that journey, it will be imperative for us to work in partnership to co-create and implement a fresh, new coordinated and participant-focused process and framework designed to ensure that Pfizer puts patients first in everything we do—both now and in the future.

What does a patient-centric interaction look like?

It’s really not complicated. A patient centric interaction should look like one where I as the doctor, or I as the researcher, am meeting with and hearing from patients. And instead of making decisions about what I think is best for them, talking to patients about where their preferences lie and which options work best for them.

Prior to joining Pfizer you worked at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US. What are some ways that role has shaped you, and how will that help you in your new role?

In my role as Chief Engagement Officer and Scientific Executive for the ‘All of Us’ Research Programme, I led efforts to enroll, engage and retain 1 million or more volunteers in a landmark research study designed to advance innovative health research. I was also responsible for championing the voice of participants and forging partnerships with HCPs and patient groups to raise awareness, interest and excitement about the program.

Whilst in the role, I was also responsible for increasing diversity in clinical trials, and amongst clinical researchers, scientific investigators, referring physicians and research coordinators/clinical trial teams. All these efforts will go a long way towards helping us ensure that the body of clinical knowledge gained from research efforts will be beneficial for everyone, not just a select few.

What drew you into healthcare?

My parents told me that while in my ‘terrific twos,’ I declared to them and anyone else who would listen that I wanted to be a doctor. I am not entirely sure what drove my aspiration as a 2-year-old, but as a very young child, I saw many positive interactions between my grandparents and their beloved GP. I also had a female paediatrician, which was relatively unusual at the time. Seeing them in action as caregivers, helping others to live healthier lives, shaped my interest in healthcare.

What keeps you up at night?

Injustice, inequity, inhumanity and indifference. Though I often lose sleep when I witness these things, it only serves to strengthen my resolve. My parents regularly recited the phrase, “To whom much is given, much is required,” so for me, doing what I can to leave the world in a better place because I was here is not just a nice thing to do—it’s a life-long requirement.

As Chief Patient Officer, how do you hope to leave the world a better place?

I think if I am able to shift the paradigm to a place where we are truly patient-centric in a way that we are thinking about how the patient will benefit from everything we do, then I will feel like I have left my legacy on the world.

PP-CPF-GBR-0036 / Dec 2020