The Changemakers: Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh on taking ‘good bedside manners’ to new levels
In this month’s issue of IMAGE magazine, Orla Neligan talked to the Irish women who are making a big impact in their
Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh
Consultant and clinical lead and investigator for the Inclusion Health research service at St James’s Hospital
As a child, Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh was more interested in becoming a ballerina, or a detective, eventually landing her “dream job” as a doctor when she realised medicine could satisfy her desire to hear people’s stories and work with those on the margins of society.
She has taken the old medical adage of “good bedside manner” to new levels, forming the Inclusion Health Service, a project that seeks to bridge the gap between those people excluded from society and proper healthcare. A system that treats everyone with kindness and understanding, whether they are marginalised for reasons such as homelessness or addiction, is the core of her approach. “The standard models of care don’t suit all patients. By tailoring our approach to better meet the needs of individuals, we can address those inequalities,” she explains.
What have you learnt most about yourself since embarking on this journey?
“That I can learn new things and that I’m more resilient than I ever would have thought.”
The service is the first of its kind in the world and has already successfully reduced the rates of admission, re-admission and length of stay of homeless patients. While lack of clarity on instigating change on a national level frustrates her, she is hopeful. “It would be great if healthcare providers and systems would directly address social determinants of health, but there is so much good and care for others among people, and seeing that is a privilege.”
The first step to change is realising you don’t have to get it right the first time, but part of her ability to challenge preconceptions stems from her personal and empathetic approach. “I try to get people to see things differently, often giving details about the person so they can be seen by others as the human beings they are.”
Personal or professional motto?
“Nobody lost their life or limb. We can fix it!”