Elena Abell – Senior Vice President, Group Medical Director, Ashfield Healthcare Communications Medcomms Day - Elena Abell Q & A


How did you get into your role?

After my PhD I knew I didn’t want to stay in science (that’s a whole separate interview topic around the unappealing nature of short-term academic contracts and diminishing grant funding among various other things!) so, I was looking around for an alternative career. I saw an advert through the Oxford University Careers Service for an associate medical writer role. I’d always been interested in the public understanding of science so thought I’d give medical communications a go. I think I was pretty clueless at the time about what the industry was really about, but lucky for me I landed on my feet in a fantastic (if relatively unknown) industry. I moved quickly up through the medical and scientific services side of the business (medical writing) within one of our Ashfield agencies, Watermeadow Medical, but found I had a flair for managing large accounts. Watermeadow gave me the opportunity to move into the client services side of the business where I spent a number of years as a Business Unit Director. I’m now working as Group Medical Director where I support business development and best-practice sharing across a number of different med comms agencies within Ashfield Healthcare Communications.

What’s the most exciting project you have worked on?

Too many to mention, but for the sheer adrenalin rush I’d have to say attending my first-ever European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Congress with one of our biggest clients, back in 2006. I watched in awe as the slides I’d helped one of the world’s leading diabetologists to write, were presented to an audience of 3,500 at our client’s flagship satellite symposium. Nothing beats seeing slides that you’ve supported with on a big screen.

What’s the best part about your job?

The people! I get to work with some extremely talented people at Ashfield. In my time, I have loved the camaraderie of working in an agency environment, where everyone is working together as a cohesive team, looking out for each other and of course, having fun along the way. These days I work across the Ashfield Healthcare Communications business (and beyond!) in more of a consultancy capacity, so right now the best part of my job is the variety of people I meet and in helping them connect, to deliver some amazing projects for our clients.

What do you find unique about your career field?

I love science and I love communicating science; be that through talking, writing, on stage, through new technology or through being really creative. I can’t think of another job in another industry, that marries all those things together, so for me that is what makes this career so unique.

What is it like to work for Ashfield?

Ashfield is a really interesting place to work. We’ve evolved tremendously even in the time I’ve been with the company and it’s an energetic, supportive and forward-thinking place to work. It’s a company that’s going places and I’m really enjoying being part of the journey.

What is the most exciting place you have travelled to with work?

We get to travel to some incredible places in this industry but by a long way, the most exciting place I have travelled to is Japan. The people, the culture, the food – I found it all utterly fascinating and totally bewitching. I can’t wait to go back one day and travel through the country properly.

What do you think is the future of medcomms?

Tricky one. Where I think it’s going and where I’d like it to go are probably different (but complementary) things. Where medcomms is going – empowered patients and their needs very much at the centre of communications planning, and more targeted communications incorporating health psychology and health economics. Where I’d like medcomms to go – in general I’d love to see more of a collaborative approach within the industry to address disease prevention and it would be great to see medcomms leading from the front to support that drive.

To find out more about a career in Healthcare Communications, click here.