Katarína Gatialová took part in the WE Health project’s module 3 in Barcelona back in 2017, and is now the President of the European Health Parliament and Consultant for the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic, where she is helping to shape the future of healthcare in Europe on a policy level.
Tell us about your role in the European Health Parliament and as a consultant for the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic
The European Health Parliament is a multidisciplinary movement connecting and empowering the next generation of European health leaders to provide disruptive, actionable solutions for health and to shape the future of healthcare in Europe. Usually, 50-60 participants work together on innovative political solutions to address emerging topics in healthcare. The outcome of our discussions, meetings, and work will be presented to different stakeholders such as the European Commission or the Members of European Parliament in April 2019 as policy recommendations which they can implement. We are structured in different committees working on five different topics: Disease Prevention & Management, Data for Healthy Societies, Innovation & Value, Health Literacy & Self-care and Human Health & the Environment.
Besides my work on an EU level, I also want to share my learnings on a national level and give it back to my country. Therefore, I am supporting the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic in the area of international/ European relations and in the process of developing guidelines for patient safety and medication management. My background in pharmacy helps me a lot here. In general, I have found that people are really open to new innovative ideas not only when complaining about how bad the system is but also suggesting concrete solutions for improvement.
What motivated you to engage in health policy?
Besides my studies in pharmacy, I wanted to widen my perspective on healthcare as such, because the pharma world is only part of the whole system. To do so, I tried to use every opportunities that life gave me and did a considerable amount of internships to see the professional world outside of my country. I had the chance to experience healthcare in many different countries, Taiwan, India, several European countries and even the United States, helping me to learn about the global differences in healthcare systems. This gave me another perspective on healthcare and made me appreciate a lot more what we have in Europe. Although there are much worse healthcare systems out there, the EU also has its specific problems to tackle. We, for example, can currently see an increased spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in Europe. So there is still a lot to improve, that we as a younger generation can address.
I was lucky to get to work for the EU Commission as a Blue Book trainee at the time when they were issuing a new proposal for recommendations on vaccinations. This was a very fruitful experience and I am still very thankful to my former team because I had the chance to be directly involved in the very first policy initiative in this area. I especially liked thinking forward and considering all the effects that this policy change might have on the different national healthcare systems and the patients themselves in each of the countries. So, I hope that I will continue working to make lives better in the EU and I hope to stay in this field.
What are your biggest challenges in the European Health Parliament?
The biggest challenge is to understand and to indicate the emerging problems really well and think about Europe as a whole. When preparing a health policy recommendation for the EU Commission, or even a statement for the World Health Assembly, every word is important in order to not harm anyone. Therefore, this process takes a really long time and you need a lot of patience. Yet, it is our responsibility to propose something meaningful and innovative for all people in the EU.
The big advantage of this platform is the fact that all members of the Parliament have different areas of expertise and come from different European countries. That makes it, on the one hand, difficult in the beginning because of the variety of perspectives and opinions we could focus on, but in the end, also helps a lot to find a proper solution that fits everyone.
What are you really proud of?
In my rigorous thesis (for my Doctor of Pharmacy) that I was defending this autumn, I was the first bold fellow to raise the very sensitive topic of medicine shortages in the Slovak Republic on an academic level with data that was not previously in the public domain. The results of my thesis "Medicine shortages: Re-export and Parallel Trade of Medicines in the Slovak Republic” are shocking, and directly came out in a time when the topic was controversially discussed in the public and new legislation was introduced and implemented to tackle the problem. Due to negative incentives from pricing regulation, the pharma distributors had an incentive to re-export the medication to the third countries and so patients in Slovakia could not follow their strict medication schedules which posed a danger to their lives. No one else has addressed that topic on the academic ground before for different reasons. I think I was just a young bold person and did not care a lot about potential conflicts and relations, because I wanted to reveal the truth. So I am really proud I helped to raise awareness of this topic and I have since received very positive feedback on my work.
Last year you took part in the WE Health programme. Do you recall of any change you have made in your personal/professional life since the workshop? / What impact did the workshop have on you?
I took part in the Module 3 workshop at IESE Business School in Barcelona. All the women I met there – speakers, lecturers, participants – were really inspirational and all had their own success story. This helped me to overcome my fears and other obstacles that prevented me from approaching "my dream career”. The classes about business case studies of huge international concerns, workshops on pitching your ideas and lectures with professional coaches, about finding yourself in the professional world, all really motivated me to follow my goals and to get more engaged in what I am passionate about. Currently, I am not an entrepreneur or working within a big corporation, but also in politics and public institutions, you need to be able to present your ideas in a convincing manner, engage with other stakeholders and build your network to achieve your objectives. Therefore, the sessions given by the lecturers and professionals were really helpful for me.
After this course, I also joined the EIT Health Alumni platform, which is open to all participants of EIT Health activities, connecting people from all over Europe who drive innovation in the field of healthcare. I took part in several Alumni events and got to know so many inspiring people, that I really admire for what they do. Innovating in healthcare is much more challenging than in other industries due to high regulation and it needs a lot of courage to step into this field. We as the European Health Parliament are also working on policy recommendations to ease the market-assess for innovators, to prevent the EU market losing great ideas and innovations.
What advice would you give to other women that strive to change the field of healthcare?
I highly encourage everyone to think one step forward and to not get discouraged by failure, because in the end, it is a part of the success that moves you forward. In contrast to the startup life where you can implement changes really fast, you need a lot of patience in the policy world. But if you know what would you like to achieve, just continue working on it and success will come. What helped me a lot is talking to other people, not only for networking but also to get new ideas or another perspectives on a topic. By working together and being open to others you can achieve much more.