Insight: Orla Gogarty

NDRC's Helen Fullen spoke to Orla Gogarty, Director of Digital Health, Transformation and Partnerships at
St Patricks Mental Health Services and supporter of The Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition 2019.

Orla Gogarty is a leader in digital healthcare. Drawing on more than 30 years of clinical, management and academic experience in the UK, Canada and Ireland, across the public and private sectors, she has successfully delivered numerous strategic projects, including Ireland’s first integrated electronic health record (EHR). Orla is the Director of Digital Health, Transformation and Partnerships at St Patricks Mental Health Services (SPMHS), Ireland’s largest independent, not-for-profit mental health service provider. As part of their new five-year strategy, Changing Minds Changing Lives, SPMHS is seeking to partner with companies to develop cutting-edge, technology-based interventions and supports for a range of mental health difficulties.

Why are you supporting The Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition?

SPMHS is delighted in 2019 to partner with NDRC in the well-established and respected Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition. SPMHS has introduced a 'Special Category Mental Health Prize' of €5,000, which will be awarded to a business technology idea that addresses a mental health challenge in the area of prevention, early intervention or relapse prevention.

What are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The three books that have greatly influenced my life would be;

The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. This is a short but beautiful novel and a real antidote to dystopian fiction, sprinkled with inspiring sage concepts about destiny, rising above failure and unity of the universe.

Soundings: Poems we did for our Leaving Certificate, edited by Augustine Martin. I love to nostalgically dip into the new edition which was a gift from an old friend – although female poets are mostly absent.

I like to keep professionally up to date. I have had the privilege and pleasure of reading excellent books over the years on various aspects of mental health written by colleagues, including Paul Gilligan’s ‘Raising Emotionally Healthy Children’, Prof Jim Lucey’s ‘The Life Well Lived’ and ‘In my Room’ and Colman Noctor’s ‘Cop On’.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

It cost a little more than €100 but my ‘Fitbit’ is a wearable technology that is of great value to me as a lifestyle regulator. It helps me keep track of and adjust my daily activity levels, sleep routine, water and food intake – all of which have an impact on my mental health and sense of well-being.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

Where to start!! Failure is an inevitable life experience, the fear of which is often disproportionate to the event itself or its effect. About 12 years ago, I was unsuccessful at interview for a position that I am now so grateful I did not get. The experience prompted me to re-evaluate my professional direction and I have never looked back.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph.

It is important to find meaning in what we do every day – alone, with family or friends, at work or at home or by ourselves. This quote from Martin Luther King expresses what I believe we should all be about: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Apart from my continuous professional education, I would have to say a Friendship Fund which two close friends and I set up in 2013. Our €50 monthly direct debit allows us to travel and do things together which is a fantastic investment in what is and has been a great source of support over the years.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

It would have to be my guilty pleasure – Candy Crush. Of course, I rationalise my enjoyment with the unevidenced cognitive benefits it brings!

In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Many people reject routines because they would rather be adventurous, go with the flow, and keep their schedules open-ended. I have had a few health issues over the last four years, but keeping a daily routine helps me manage and balance my overall health, wellbeing and productivity well.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

I have always been curious and interested in learning new things which has allowed me to adapt to new professional contexts and roles reasonably easily over my career. I would say to a smart, driven college student:

Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know – we can all learn new information, skills and perspectives. Our greatest personal and professional growth comes from our openness to new experiences that challenge, scare, excite and daunt us.

Focusing on results is important professionally and commercially but making sure they are aligned to our values will inspire our personal commitment to achieve them.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I am probably guilty of saying this myself on occasion; the statement “we don’t have enough resources” can be a reflex but not always the solution to a problem. In a digital health context, using proven technology in novel ways or novel technology for a proven process can save people’s time and hard-earned money.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips.

We have a great digital health team at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, which includes clinicians and technology professionals with a range of sector experience and knowledge but more importantly with the critical ‘Can do’ attitude. The team has taken time to build but the culture is a positive and collaborative one. I have got better at trusting and delegating to my team, which allows me to focus on more strategic initiatives.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

Get some fresh air! Walking preferably in nature – alone, with our dogs, with my husband or friends. Last year, I had the privilege of walking the Portuguese Camino for a week with two of my brothers. It was truly a life affirming and professionally refocusing experience – I plan to do it again this year!