June 10

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Before the Beginning

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be.  Each of us is both impossible and inevitable.  Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”  

An excerpt from “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren

As I prepare for commencing my PULSE assignment, I have been reflecting on what has led me to this point. The PULSE program is GlaxoSmithKline’s skills-based volunteering initiative which started in 2009, the same year that my son was born.  This program was announced by our former CEO Andrew Witty at a global town hall meeting while I was on parental leave.  My manager at the time called me to let me know of the program, knowing that I would be extremely interested.  However, I could not entertain the thought of applying with a new born.  Over the subsequent years, I eagerly lapped up the wonderful stories from colleagues who had gone on PULSE assignments.  I kept shoving my interest into the “another day” bucket due to family / life commitments.

My job at GSK was interesting, challenging and meaningful. I was leading the Product Development team for a low cost inhaler developed specifically for low / middle income populations of Emerging Markets.  In that position, we had overcome many hurdles and achieved positive clinical outcomes in Pharmacokinetic and Phase 3 efficacy studies for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The main event which has steered my life towards the global healthcare path was a trip to Jakarta in 2012. I participated in a GEMBA (“Go and See”) to identify barriers to accessing affordable treatments for asthma and COPD in low/middle income countries.  During the GEMBA, we visited asthma and COPD patients in their homes (usually 1 room dwellings) and performed interviews.  We also visited doctors and pharmacists to understand how low / middle income patients accessed the healthcare system and their diagnosis / treatment regimens.  My week spent in Jakarta was life-changing.  I experienced the vast dichotomy between extreme wealth and poverty which exists in developing countries.

Fast forward to now…my son is 8 years old and my wife is fully supporting my career ambition to gain experience in the global health / non-profit arena.  So, I applied for the PULSE program this year and was successful (Yippee!!).  I have been matched with Save the Children in Australia (https://www.savethechildren.org.au/).  I am extremely happy to be matched with Save the Children, which is Australia’s largest aid and development agency dedicated to helping children.

I will be based in Melbourne, which is the city where I have spent many years off and on, where I obtained my undergraduate and graduate degrees and where I have many family / friends.  However, I have to admit that everyone who knows about my eternal wanderlust knows that I was hoping for a different city /country and most friends have laughed when I have mentioned the location of my assignment.

The details of my PULSE assignment still need to be fully mapped out but I will be working to improve the healthcare of the indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. I will be starting on July 17th and have a 6 month assignment.

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The PULSE Volunteer Partnership is GlaxoSmithKline’s skills-based volunteering initiative. Through PULSE, motivated employees are matched to a non-profit organization for 3 or 6 months full-time, contributing their skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad.  When PULSE Volunteers return to GSK, they act as catalysts to change the company for the better.