Stains Unwashed From My White Coat — The Dr. Roslyn Schneider Story

Throughout her career, Dr Roslyn Schneider has been driven by a singular principle — to understand and empower patients

Dr. Roslyn Schneider, known as Roz to her friends is a pioneer in our movement to patient centricity. She was born at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, where she later attended Medical School. Her life has been dedicated to improving patient outcomes first as a practicing physician and now as a pharma executive. A sore knee, a displaced persons camp, Siberia and 9/11 made sure of it! Read on to hear her story. Learn why she has been such a passionate leader in the movement to patient centricity, how she has tackled the challenges to achieve patient centricity and her hopes for the future of healthcare.

When she was 13 she had an illness and was fascinated with how she was misdiagnosed, diagnosed and then treated. Her mother noticed Roz was just not herself; not her dancing, active, happy girl. The knee pain and thigh weakness, poorer attitude, excessive eating and weight loss naturally concerned her. The pediatrician however dismissed the concerns saying “she’s an adolescent!”. Her mother questioned him, but in the end listened.

Serendipitously, soon after, she had an eye apt. The ophthalmologist took one look at her and said, “We’re going to postpone this exam. Today you need to visit my endocrinologist friend.” He immediately diagnosed her with Graves’ disease. With the proper medication, she was back to her dancing, happy self within a few months. Roz thought to herself, “Maybe I want to be a doctor – to figure things out that are bothering people”.

Thirteen was a big year for Roz since she met her future husband then at a Bat Mitzvah (the moment was actually captured in the picture to the left). He asked her to dance and they’ve been dancing ever since.

Roz chose a special program for University and Medical School, now the CUNY School of Medicine, where she committed to serving underprivileged communities after graduation for at least two years. Since she grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan — an underserved, immigrant community — she knew what it was like. She knew what a privilege it was to have an education.

Her father, (in pic to the right with her mother) for example, was in a displaced persons camp after being rescued from Siberia. Her mother was one of the hidden children in Budapest, living in a convent, so she wanted to give back with that education. Students at her school were taught to think about health in a different way. They focused on community health; prevention and social determinants of health. This approach was not mainstream in other programs at the time.

She trained on the lower east side in internal medicine where she was exposed to pulmonary and critical care medicine, which intrigued her. AIDS had just recently been identified and they were seeing a lot of people with pulmonary complications. She thought there was much that would need to be done. She saw that the illness, science and advocacy changed not just the patients’ medical situation but also the community.

The Chief of Pulmonary asked young Roz to join the Pulmonary Complications of HIV study, doing research to follow a cohort of people with HIV. She added this to her clinical work. She loved her practice and the teaching. Life was good. Her daughter Brooke was born.

Then tragedy struck. We all remember watching 9/11. Roz had a front row seat. She remembers watching out the window and seeing the buildings fall. She remembers the agony and wanting to help;  preparing the hospital to be an ICU for all the people….. who never arrived. This changed everything. 

Roz had always felt safe in New York. She grew up with her parents telling her about the atrocities they lived through under the Nazi regime in their homes in Poland and Hungary. This could never happen here, she had thought. But here it was, this hatred and evil, right in her backyard. Roz’s daughter was five years old. After days of being separated from her family, Roz remembers coming home, bone tired, mentally exhausted, sad and confused, to her 5-year old daughter (in picture to the left) who summed up her feelings in one sentence saying “I know why you’re sad mommy – you wanted to help people and you couldn’t.”

Roz continued her practice, trying to heal along with the rest of NY. She still loved caring for patients after all, but 9/11 changed things. A few years later, within six months of each other, there were two more tragedies. Two residents died from probable suicide. As a Program Director she always said she had 120 kids; 119 at work and 1 at home. She felt responsible for them. She saw it was such a pivotal time in their life when they were in training. They were students and employees, she was a teacher and a boss, a confident and a nurturer. Through work, she was trained and prepared for end of life, natural death, but totally not prepared for this ending of life.

She started to think, maybe there is another healing path. Her two decades in the hospital had been a great chapter. She had experienced so much joy making lives better for people living with illness, helping ease the end of life. She derived much pleasure from her own practice and she loved sparking the joy of practice in younger people. But it was time to close this chapter and see what’s next.

Every day on her way home, she passed the Pfizer building. In the back of her head she remembered her colleague who had transferred his patients to her to go to Pfizer. She called him to gently explore. He described an open field-based medical position working on the respiratory team in smoking cessation and COPD. She made the leap. She got her feet wet in this role, then moved into group and regional leader roles…and loved it. She loved creating medical strategy for a region that had its particular health challenges. This was followed with the role as Chief of Staff of Primary Care Medicines development group, on a brand team and then working with the Chief Medical Officer on medical strategy.

With the patient centricity movement gathering steam, Roz created the role of Global Patient Affairs Lead. She and her organisation recognized they needed to be a part of this movement. The patient community was really stepping up in their knowledge of medical information, there was an activism across all disease areas, even those that had been less heard from previously. They were achieving real influence with regulatory agencies and health authorities. People were taking more of a role in reimbursement and payer issues. It made no sense to continue with practices that didn’t incorporate this, that didn’t have more involvement from patients in the entire product life cycle.  

She saw that industry needed to be more focused on the value we were bringing in a way that was important to patients – not only to us. In her previous roles she was listening to patients and colleagues and realised that the complex effort to advance medicine could be more efficient and effective. It too made so much sense to have patients co-creating and advising, in the same way that other experts, scientists and statisticians, advised. She remembers asking her internal scientists, “Looking back, what would have been good to know?” Some of those things were things patients could have told them. She got to work partnering with champions across and outside of the company, changing the paradigm so patients were involved earlier so they and we could make better decisions. “Why limit experts to surrogates, when we can go straight to patients?” Roz thought. And importantly, “Why expect people to adhere to what WE think is good for them if they haven’t been involved to help us appreciate what good is for THEM?”

It was so promising for the future. The science was advancing in precision medicine, AI, digital and there was an opportunity to make sure it would all be as personal as it was precise so that it would be what it needed to be for each person. Roz recognized it was a big wheel to turn; a large industry and a large company. It would have to be by design not just good will.

By partnering outside the company with Patient Focused Medicines Development, National Health Council, FasterCures, European Patients Forum, TransCelerate and others, she worked to align in understanding what should be done across the industry. There were 3 pivotal steps:

  1. Shift the cultureto focus on patients first and understand patients were also experts
  2. Empower leadersat every level to embrace and set expectations for patient centricity.
  3. Improve processesso they could implement patient centric ideas into action.

This was transformational and continues through the most recent reorganisation of Pfizer at which time Roz left to explore the next chapter. Roz feels most proud knowing that:

1) The culture has shifted and continues to move toward more of a patient focus.

2) There is endorsement through the highest executive level

3) Many processes and templates have been updated specifically with patient involvement in mind

What’s next in the movement of PC in our industry? Roz says that involving patients through the life cycle of the treatment needs to be increasingly accepted as the way to do business. To achieve that she says we have to remain humble and continue to hear and listen (which are not the same) and work together in respectful and productive ways.

What’s next for Roz is to apply her passion, connections and expertise from chapters 1 and 2 to continue to advance this movement whether through consulting or in an executive position in another pharma company. Her hope is that we will continue to transform healthcare so it will be equitable for all who need it and that the science and technology advance with the patient community. Through partnerships across patient communities, healthcare systems, industry, government and others, she believes we can serve all people who need healthcare equitably toward the real purpose of healthcare with innovation to improve people’s lives in ways that matter to them.

  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Roz when we were both at eyeforpharma Barcelona. Enjoy this short video of our conversation where she shares her answers to questions such as:

  1. As a pioneer in our patient-centric movement, where has patient centricity been and where is it going?
  2. What is patient centricity and what is it not?
  3. How do we create a culture of patient centricity?
  4. What is exciting to you about the future of pharma

Roz Schneider - Excellerate