Sarah Smith – Member of the Month – February 2016

Sarah workSarah Smith, Freelance Consumer Health Information Specialist

The world of health information is a great place to work – I love it. The people who work in it are passionate about it and believe in the power of knowledge and understanding to transform health and well-being – that makes them tenacious, generous with their knowledge and time and natural communicators. There is nothing better than immersing yourself in the energy generated at a PiF event, and it’s one of the reasons why I have been a member for so long and why I was one of its Directors for more than 6 years. I love it too, because it genuinely makes a difference.

I’ve worked in health information for a long time, probably coming up on 20 years. When I started, PIF was a small informal group of experts, there was no Information Standard, NHS Choices, NHS Inform or BMA Patient Information Awards, the Internet was in its infancy, using Clip Art was thought to be state of the art and people had treatments ‘done to them’, rather than sharing in decision making.

Thankfully, things have improved enormously and the cultural shift towards putting the individual and their needs at the centre of things has done more than anything else to change the world of health information. That, and the information rich world in which we now all live, have fundamentally changed the way in which we inform ourselves and make decisions. The quality and the reach of information has undergone something of a revolution as well as a natural evolution, and I think it’s safe to say that we probably won’t know the true impact of these changes for some time to come. Safe to say, information has probably shaped health in more ways than we can imagine.

Over the last 20 years I have worked for and with organisations in every sector and produced hundreds of pieces of information for many different audiences and in most formats. I’ve set up, run and managed health information services and helped to shape and influence national policy. I’ve reviewed and judged information produced by others, written and created my own and had it judged by countless users (always useful, but sometimes painful!). I’ve also seen health information from the other side – as a nurse supporting patients to use it and as a patient and carer searching for and using the information I find.

I’ve seen some amazing resources and services (and some truly awful ones), met inspirational and creative people pushing the sector forward, and met those whose persistence and dogged determination ensure that information gets out to those who need it even when there is very little money and even less glory. I suppose I have learned a few important things in that time:

  • You can never make assumptions about what will work, what’s good or what’s useful. Our users always have something to tell us and our most important job is to listen. It’s also often the most interesting and fun part of the job.
  • Information is now one of our most valuable assets, but one of our least appreciated. Imagine if the World Wide Web went down tomorrow……..
  • The right information changes lives – one of the best things about communicating health information is the ‘lightbulb moment’, when someone understands and ‘gets’ something for the first time, and you can see it will change their behaviour or the way that they think or feel about something. It’s a fabulous gift to give.

    Since I left PIF a little over a year ago, I’ve taken on one of life’s greatest challenges, that of becoming a Mum, and it’s taken me in a new direction. I’m about to start working in information but in education too, helping parents and children understand more about special educational needs. I still freelance, writing copy about all manner of health issues and attempting to fit it all in around family life. I miss working at PiF immensely, and I miss all of the amazing people I have worked and become friends with over the years.

    Soon, I hope to emerge more fully out of domestic servitude, interrupted sleep and bedtime stories and fully recover the part of me that is a working professional! Until then, when I hope to see some of you again, if you want to get in touch I would love to hear from you. You can reach me at or on 07740 867297.