Katy Hewett

Career Profile: Healthcare Communications

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.


Picture1Profile: Katy Hewett

Title: Senior Analyst

Company: Ogilvy CommonHealth Behavioral Insights

What Katy does in a nutshell: Studies and helps to improve healthcare communication, particularly the dialogue between healthcare professionals and patients

How did you get started at Ogilvy CommonHealth?

I kind of happened upon health care. I’ve always been interested in health, but I didn’t know that I could directly apply my linguistics training to the healthcare industry until attending the Master’s in Language and Communication program at Georgetown University. That’s when I discovered the applications in healthcare. I did an informational interview with Dr. Heidi Hamilton, who helped found Ogilvy CommonHealth. Afterward, they had a job opening and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been there for five years now.

What do you do at Ogilvy CommonHealth?

Among other methodologies, we perform studies that are based on interactional sociolinguistics techniques. We record doctor-patient visits, then we interview the doctor and patient afterwards. What we learn is that oftentimes there is miscommunication and a doctor’s visit is one of the worst times to have miscommunication. Oftentimes we’re studying the dialogue around a particular healthcare category or a particular pharmaceutical brand to provide insight.

What do you like about working for Ogilvy CommonHealth?

I always wanted to do something where I got to help people. What I do, it is business, but I feel like I get to help patients and healthcare professionals. We educate doctors on how to better communicate. We work with clients to create communication tools. And we help patients communicate with their doctors about their condition.

What were you looking for in a job?

I was open to a job in any field where social science was going to be appreciated. Being linguists, our social science training can apply to anything, like moderating focus groups and a lot of other fields. I was lucky that I heard about this company through my Georgetown connections and there was this opening. I do still get to use my linguistic training. At a meeting I can say, “I’m the linguist who analyzes the dialogue.” And people know what that means and appreciate it. That’s pretty special.

What linguistics skills do you use in your position?

As linguists we carry over a lot of skills that we don’t know that we possess. Not only being able to analyze dialogue and transcripts, but we also have the ability to communicate with others. We know how to create a report for a specific audience, or in a meeting, how to interpret what one person is saying and translate it for everybody else.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of the work you do?

Sometimes as a linguist you have to explain a lot. You have to explain the value of linguistics, especially to clients. It really forces you to prove the value of our training. I get the sample size question on a regular basis. We’ve done studies with twenty-five patients and ten doctors and that’s enough, but the clients don’t always know that. The clients are used to doing clinical trials, where they have thousands of patients.

How do you explain the value of sociolinguistics to clients?

So we break it down. We tell them that linguistics looks at language in society and how they interplay. We try to explain the value of social science. We can analyze people’s behavior, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. We don’t get into the details of the actual analysis until we show them the findings. That way we can show an example of dialogue that explains how we analyzed doctor’s questions.

What kind of advice do you have for a person looking to incorporate more of their linguistics training in their current positions?

The kind of organization that you work for is going to determine what you can do. As a marketing agency, Ogilvy CommonHealth tends to be open to what is new. They want to jump on it and be addressing any client needs. So right now what is new is the digital aspect. They’re throwing themselves wholeheartedly into digital engagement and understanding social listening. We’re always trying to innovate and come up with new methodologies and they allow us to do that.

Thank you Katy for sharing your insights with the Career Linguist community!!


About this post’s guest blogger, Holly Lopez Long:  Holly is a discourse analyst and qualitative researcher that uses linguistic tools to uncover relational dynamics in difficult-to-understand data. She has experience in ethnography, focus group and user experience studies, as well as expertise in analyzing audio/video recordings, digital diaries, and social media posts.