When patients in Israel start on our therapy, the first person they hear from is Karen Huller, Senior Intake Coordinator. She explains the next steps, including the required paperwork, and if the patient wants to proceed, she assigns them to a Device Support Specialist (DSS) to initiate treatment.
As a patient’s first contact from Novocure, Karen aims to empathize and make a trusted connection.
“It’s very important to me that patients know they’ve reached somewhere a bit different to the regular health system, that they can trust me to steer them in the right direction,” she said. “They can count on me to be available if they have questions.”
Patients are often in a vulnerable place when they hear from Karen. They’re facing a difficult diagnosis and often have undergone surgery and additional treatments already.
“These people have had their world come tumbling down,” Karen said.
Karen, who joined Novocure in 2019, has a background in nursing. Her years of experience working with chronically ill patients has prepared her to empathize with the patients she calls for Novocure. She once ran a community health clinic with more than 10,000 patients.
“I’m quite used to speaking to patients and trying to see where they’re coming from, trying to see what level they’re at, if they understand what’s going on,” she said.
Some patients and caregivers are calm and optimistic about their future treatment. Some are highly emotional, even angry. In those cases, Karen tries to understand where their anger is coming from. Did something else happen? Did they expect something different than the way things are? Do they want to start treatment sooner than is possible?
“If I can understand where it’s coming from, then it’s easier to calm people down,” she said.
Karen also ensures that patients feel heard and cared for long past their conversation. She maintains a close relationship with the DSSs and passes along patients’ concerns so they can address them.
At Novocure, our colleagues demonstrate empathy every day. We strive to practice empathy for patients, healthcare providers, fellow colleagues and everyone else with whom we interact.
When Glorianne Garvin, Senior Territory Manager for Connecticut and Eastern New York, calls an oncologist’s office, her goal is bigger than persuading their team to prescribe our therapy to patients.
These healthcare providers see a lot of suffering, and they have schedules jam-packed with in-person and virtual visits. Glorianne aims to understand their challenges so she can help them do their difficult jobs better.
Empathy begins, Glorianne said, when you set an intention to listen to others.
“Some people decide to go into a conversation with their own agenda,” she said. “With empathy, I feel like I can go in and really listen to and understand them, but they can also come to me for advice, and I can really try to propose solutions.”
Glorianne is also committed to helping patients as they start therapy or manage side effects.
The eldest of six siblings, Glorianne developed empathy in childhood and honed her listening skills early.
“I think that it was necessary for me to intimate what was going on, even at a very young age, and to understand what I needed to accomplish to make things go smoothly,” she said.
From volunteering in hospitals as a teenager to working as a nurse’s aide during college, Glorianne served people in need. After graduating, she spent decades as a pharmaceutical representative before joining Novocure in 2016 to help others.
Some people decide to go into a conversation with their own agenda. With empathy, I feel like I can go in and really listen to and understand them, but they can also come to me for advice, and I can really try to propose solutions.—
Senior Territory Manager
For Jürgen Schaller, Senior Manager, Human Resources, based in Munich, empathy is critical to his everyday work.
“It’s always about the people and about the employees,” Jürgen said. “To understand how they feel and what they feel, it’s very important for this role.”
Jürgen helps colleagues navigate challenges and resolve conflicts. He speaks with them to understand their views, considering each perspective and responding honestly. Sometimes the solution is simple. Perhaps an employee just needs more training. Maybe a conversation is enough to clarify a previous miscommunication between a manager and direct report.
“I think conversation or communication is the key here — and as honest as possible,” he said. “So of course not every line manager or HR is able to say everything because we have our business securities and so on, but as honest as possible, I think that helps a lot because then of course the employees open up also and show what they feel, what they think.” Jürgen also meets with candidates for open roles at Novocure. Candidates are often nervous during interviews.
Sometimes, when a candidate seems uncomfortable during an interview, he even says: “You don’t need to be nervous because we are human, as you are.”
“That breaks the ice because they don’t expect that much openness or honesty in the first two or three sentences,” he said.
Then, Jürgen aims to understand the person he is interviewing, beyond their application materials. He asks questions to learn why they are interested in Novocure and to assess their expectations.
“Empathy helps a lot to calm the situation down and to talk to them at one level, so that they are feeling familiar with the situation and also the company and understand what our values are and also how we act in the day to day,” he said.
Manuel Aufdenblatten, Business Unit Manager Switzerland, grew up learning from, and empathizing with, a wide variety of people who visited his hometown of Zermatt, near the famous Matterhorn mountain in the Swiss Alps. His parents own a hotel, where Manuel spent time as a child.
“You are always listening to guests,” he said. “They come from all over the world and they are explaining their stories or where they have been today. They were skiing up there or there, and you are listening to them. And I think this could have helped me to develop empathy.”
In childhood, Manuel honed his ability to understand people with varying perspectives and experiences. Later, as he pursued his master’s degree, he used his listening skills in a different way. He interviewed 35 prescribers, using proactive listening to understand hurdles to prescribing our therapy.
After finishing his master’s degree, Manuel joined Novocure, and he has held a number of roles over the past seven years. In his current position, he is in constant contact with prescribers in Switzerland, including the German-speaking, Italian-speaking region and French-speaking regions.
Manuel often calls upon empathy to understand the challenges healthcare providers face. He also practices empathy for coworkers, especially new colleagues, by learning about their pain points and pitching in to help if he can.
“It is important to listen to your colleagues, he said. “What are their thoughts? What are their struggles in their daily work? But of course you also then have to act, not just to listen, also to act if you can do something.”
It’s always about the people and about the employees. To understand how they feel and what they feel, it’s very important for this role.—
Senior Manager, Human Resources
Sometimes empathy means meeting people where they are, even in emotionally charged or frustrating situations.
Onur Atca, based in Munich, joined Novocure in 2021 as a Reimbursement Specialist responsible for obtaining health insurance approvals for patients. In this role, he helped patients appeal their cases when coverage was denied — a frustrating situation for patients and caregivers.
This required Onur to be empathetic to patients, who want to ensure their treatment is covered, and healthcare providers, who want Novocure to help them help their patients. Onur’s position also required empathy for employees of the insurers that were not promptly approving payments. Onur reminded himself that these individuals were trying to succeed in their jobs with the directions they were given.
Onur might not have initially understood or agreed with a clerk’s request for more documents, for example, but he put himself in the shoes of that person. He reminded himself that the clerk was probably directed by their manager to follow this process. Just as Onur seeks to meet goals set by his manager, so too do these employees, he said.
It helps that Onur worked in the health insurance industry for six years, so he understands firsthand some of the challenges employees in that sector face.
Now, Onur is a Supervisor, Collections, collecting open invoices that insurers have not yet paid. This role requires him to be proactive and seek information from insurers in an empathetic way.
“I contact and ask them, ‘Hey, is there an issue? Did you get the invoice already? Or did you miss something?’” he said.
He aims to be understanding and solutions-focused. Maybe the correct department did not receive the invoice. Maybe the department’s responsibilities have changed. Perhaps they just need more information to process the invoice. Understanding the problem and calmly working with, not against, the representative is the best way to resolve the issue.
As she manages her team day to day, Melissa Shackelford, Associate Director, Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), keeps empathy at the forefront. MSLs are Novocure’s scientific interface with healthcare providers, and Melissa supports six MSLs covering the eastern part of the U.S.
Melissa draws from her decade of experience at Novocure to set up her team for success communicating the science and data of Tumor Treating Fields. She strategizes, answers questions and walks alongside MSLs as they meet with healthcare providers in the field.
“I am a sounding board for them as well as, I hope, a resource,” she said.
When she needs to provide feedback to her team, Melissa aims to understand their perceptions before she steps in with her recommendations for improvement.
“Empathy teaches us all about patience and sometimes allowing others to go first with their assessment,” she said. “Then, you can come in and build upon what their perception is, so validate and build.”
When you need to help someone course correct, empathy is especially important, she says. Rather than making an accusation or asking someone why they didn’t do something a certain way, she says something like: Help me understand what your expectation was with this particular event, or help me understand why X, Y, Z didn’t occur.
She keeps in mind how she would want to be approached in a similar situation.
“I would want someone to allow me to explain before they came and told me what they thought,” she said.
Melissa is also empathetic about how personal struggles can sometimes affect work life. Team members go through tough times — during the pandemic, for example, there were novel challenges accessing childcare and other resources.
“Trying to help my team achieve work-life balance and fulfillment from the role is part of what I do as well,” she said. “And I have to be empathetic, and I have to understand where they’re coming from because that often drives their behavior.”
From colleagues to healthcare providers to patients, we strive to practice empathy for all so that we can advance our mission to extend survival in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
“I feel that empathy is the core of helping to treat and help our patients along their journey,” Karen said.