When Two Worlds Converge

Jordan Rankin found the pharma industry, and the pharma industry found him

For Jordan Rankin, the patient perspective has always come naturally. After joining Janssen - the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, six years ago straight out of university, he found himself gravitating towards patient work in his spare time while working in sales. He’s now made looking after patients’ interests his day job, with his work in the patient engagement team directly informed by his medical experiences.

“I’ve got ulcerative colitis and I think being a patient led me to making the jump into the patient engagement team. I can understand why it’s so important to have that voice heard within a business like Janssen, so that really drove me here so I could help other patient voices from outside the company be heard and help shape some of the decisions we make to drive the best results for patients.”

Jordan was diagnosed with the digestive disorder aged 19, halfway through his first year of university in York. “It was a pretty awful time to get hit with something like ulcerative colitis,” he says. “For a start, it can be quite an embarrassing disease ­– the symptoms are essentially that you’re running to the toilet 15 to 25 times a day. That’s a bit of a shock, especially when you’re away from home and living in halls, with shared bathrooms. It’s not something you can immediately talk to people about.”

Getting to grips with his new normal and starting pharmaceutical treatment forced him to miss around eight weeks of university, and led to a series of serious lifestyle adjustments, which included sitting his exams in side rooms where he could excuse himself quickly if necessary.

“Ulcerative colitis changes a lot of things – it’s something that’s always on your mind,” says Jordan. “It’s the anxiety of it, because you often need to get to a bathroom quickly, so you have to change your daily routines. Going on a long car journey is one of my worst anxiety inducers, or even being on a long phone call.” This means that on his daily commute, Jordan chooses to leave the house an hour earlier to avoid traffic and ensure he’s only ever a half-hour drive from a service station.

Jordan’s route into pharma was something of a coincidence. While looking for a work experience placement between his second and third years of university, he looked to Janssen, having known the business from seeing its headquarters while growing up in his home town of High Wycombe, Bucks. After enjoying his eight weeks’ there, he applied for their graduate scheme and has been with the company since – enjoying a culture which he finds receptive to the nuances of his condition.    

“Working in pharma has been a very positive experience for me, because everyone is very understanding of what it’s like to be a patient and people are typically more educated about different conditions,” he says. “J&J have the credence of ‘patients first,’ and such a focus on patient wellbeing, that everyone really does understand if you need a bit of flexibility – managers have been great with me working from home or leaving a bit earlier.”

After a year in market research, one in marketing, and three as an account manager, Jordan joined the patient engagement team, and now works as a Patient Engagement and Advocacy Manager to develop the relationships between Janssen and patient advocacy groups and charities. “It’s how we can work in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for patients – partnering with patient groups and charities to make sure that patient voice is integral to what we do as a company and really shapes every stage from R&D through to licenced products. Being a patient myself, and knowing how I’ve navigated the system, is an interesting perspective to go into it with.”

In turn, his work with pharma has empowered his ongoing engagement with healthcare services. “Being more informed about how the NHS works means I know where to go to look for information, which can sometimes be slightly hidden away. I’m also more confidant in asking questions of healthcare professionals about where I am with my disease and what I can expect from the next lines of treatments.

“If I’m honest, if I didn’t work in pharma, I’d probably take the attitude of sticking my head in the sand sometimes and be quite passive as a patient – go, get told and then leave the consultation. Being that bit more informed allows me to probe the doctors a little bit about why they are making those decisions.” He’s also begun engaging with an irritable bowel disease helpline at his hospital. “The difference that you get in treatment because you’ve not waited until it’s got awful before you’ve gone in makes a massive difference.”

Knowing what he’s gone through himself means that Jordan often has a natural rapport with fellow patients he meets through his work. “It helps in terms of being empathetic towards conditions. For example, if we’re asking a patient to travel to a meeting, I’m aware that it’s not as easy for all people as just getting in a car. You have to consider whatever the condition or disease is that they have and be sympathetic and empathetic to that.

“It sometimes helps in reverse. If I open up to patient groups, they can see I’m not just a nameless person from J&J, but a person and a patient as well, so I think that helps make a bit of a bond at times as well, which can be really positive. I think the sharing of stories is always a good thing.”

Future-gazing, he thinks a truly patient-centric approach requires continued investment in building genuine partnerships with relevant groups and charities. “It’s about really trying to get that voice and experience into the work that we do, so that we’re not second guessing the needs of patients, but actually listening to them and delivering on those needs. That commitment has to be right through the business, it can’t be one part doing it, in order to deliver at all stages what patients want. I think if there’s a long-term commitment to and real investment in that approach, I think we’ll see real improvements for patients over the next 10 to 20 years.”

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