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‘Medicine needs to start looking at the patient as a whole’: Dr Daniela Grohmann [Interview]

Article-‘Medicine needs to start looking at the patient as a whole’: Dr Daniela Grohmann [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Women in Nutrition interview with Dr Daniela Grohmann
Dr Daniela Grohmann is a medical doctor and expert in Chinese Medicine Dermatology with several years of global pharma industry experience in drug safety and executive functions.

She spent three years working in China for a global pharma corporation, which is when she was introduced to and fell in love with Chinese Medicine. 

Grohmann is passionate about building teams, starting international projects from scratch, and finding impactful ways to combine Western and Eastern medicine systems – with a focus on skin and haircare. Since July, she has been the medical director of Olistic, a Spanish nutraceutical brand focused on hair growth and wellness.

Before joining Olistic, your background was in medicine and pharmaceuticals. What is it like being a woman in those different industries? Is there any overlap?

“I believe this is the wrong question to ask. There are obviously many differences between working in these two fields, like direct patient interaction, bureaucracy, navigating company politics and others. For me, medicine meant a thorough basis to start my personal development from – in order to expand my personality: working much more internationally, learning about business and applying all of those in ways I could have never done in a practice or clinic setting.

“However, I never looked at myself in either area as being a woman (and potentially having disadvantages because of that). Medicine and more science-focused areas in the pharma industry (i.e., drug safety) have a very high ratio of women. In the end, being a woman in either area means not being alone and for me it never mattered. I think we should rather ask the question of how it feels being a minority – which can mean having a different cultural background or even being a man in certain areas in medicine.”

You speak five languages and have lived in seven countries. How has your professional experience varied in different places? Is it easier to be a woman in some cultures than others?

“Living in different cultures and learning new languages gives me tremendous energy and I am super thankful that I had these experiences (which does not mean that they came easy!). Irrespective of personal or professional experiences while living in other countries, three things continuously worked for me:

“Observing everyone and everything  sometimes it is just how people interact on the street or in a meeting that tells us so much about their culture.

“Learning the local language ASAP  this is always a sign of respect to the locals and allows building a real connecting with people.

“Finding a personal balance of adapting to and blending in with the country and culture but holding on to personal values and traditions – within the past five years I lived in China, Germany, and have now moved to Spain. I do not think that we can generalise how it is being a woman in these or other countries and I never looked at it from that perspective. 

“We all know that career starting points may differ, women may take longer to develop their careers and generally need to put in more effort to balance family and work life. However, I see life as a marathon, not a sprint. So, whatever we want to achieve, I think we can – with the right focus.”

As the name suggests, Olistic champions holistic haircare. You are an expert in Chinese Medicine Dermatology as well as a physician. How do these traditions compare in their understanding of this subject? What learnings do you think Western medicine can take from ancient traditions?

“Dermatology is an incredibly complex field. In terms of treating skin diseases in Western medicine the standard treatment options are corticosteroids, antibiotics, and in recent years biologics – basically oftentimes suppressing the immune system. I do believe that medicine needs to start looking at the patient as a whole and not only work in a symptom-oriented fashion.

“Our diet, exercise, sleep routine, unresolved issues, stress, unbalanced routines, unhappy relationships, and many other factors can strongly contribute to the development of (skin) diseases. In Chinese Medicine we look at a skin in a much more holistic way, taking a concept of energy, ‘Qi’, its flow, stagnation etc. as well as concepts of excess (eg ‘heat’ or ‘dampness’) and lack (e.g. ‘blood’ or ‘Qi’) into account. Treatments rarely follow a one-size-fits all approach.”

You used to work for Bayer, acting as executive board support for the head of inclusion and diversity. What does meaningful inclusion look like? How can you ensure it happens in a company of that scale?

“In big corporations with a ‘We've always done it this way’ mentality, I think this is a rather difficult undertaking. Why? Because if you want to get it right, that would usually require substantial restructuring and mindset changes. However, most people don’t like change, especially the one that is forced. Smaller, more dynamic companies may have a tiny advantage, but only if leadership invests in cultivating and demonstrates inclusive behaviours.

“For me, it probably comes down to three things: hiring people with an inclusive mindset to begin with; demonstrating inclusion from the top; and being reflective as a leader and understanding one´s own bias. Having said that, there is no shortcut to becoming inclusive – it is a constant undertaking in any company.”

Before joining Olistic you started creating your own skincare products based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. What were the biggest challenges of being a female entrepreneur?

“I never looked at entrepreneurship or success in that field from a gender perspective. Maybe this is different in more male-dominated, technical areas. What seemed important to me was having a strong belief in my own vision and being able to win people over with a positive attitude, drive, and passion. While the political and economic challenges in the world led to challenges with supply and production, I believe that certain opportunities are meant to come around a second time.”

What would you say to young women setting out on a similar career path to yours?

“I love the quote from Barry Schwartz, ‘Everything suffers from comparison’. So, train your mind to not compare yourself to others. Find your own individual path, be courageous, and trust your gut. I think especially we women pay (too) much attention to how we are perceived by others, if we look silly or are being judged. And finally, I would say: don’t be afraid to make changes in your life – for instance, leaving a workplace that has outlived its purpose in your development and try building that business. The world is such an interconnected place with tremendous opportunities (for both women and men), so it would be a shame to not fulfil one’s own purpose in order to fulfil others’ expectations.”