Susan Bartlett Profile
Susan Bartlett (New Brunswick & Wadham 2003) is a Principal at Bridgeable, a boutique research and design firm. Susan holds an M.Sc in Computing Science from the University of Alberta, a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford as well as a B.Sc in Software Design and a B.A. in English Literature from Queen’s University.
Rhodes Project: What book are you currently reading?
Susan Bartlett: I’m currently reading China Airborne by James Fallows. He is a writer at The Atlantic Monthly and he and his wife lived in China for a number of years. He’s an amateur pilot and he has written this non- fiction account of the development of air travel within China as a metaphor for China’s industrial development overall. I’m only about three chapters into it so far but it is interesting to see that story through a different lens. I’m going to be travelling to China later this year as a tourist with my husband, so I’m interested in learning lots about that part of the world right now.
Rhodes Project: What was the first job you had?
Susan Bartlett: I taught piano when I was in high school so that was more of an entrepreneurial endeavour. My first actual job was working for the local newspaper in Moncton, New Brunswick as a summer student when I was seventeen.
Rhodes Project: What has been the most enjoyable project that you worked on recently?
Susan Bartlett: We’ve been working on and off for two years on our Therachoice Project. It’s an online tool to help men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer understand the treatment decisions that they have to make and the options that are available to them. Prostate cancer is very interesting because the standard of care allows for a number of options for the diagnostic characteristics that most men will have. It’s a very emotional decision to make and often the side effects are significant. The tool helps them understand what the different therapies are like. For instance, surgery is done quickly, but with radiation you’d be coming into the hospital every day for five days a week for six weeks or so. How will that impact your life?
The project started with “Hmm! Wouldn’t it be interesting if we did something around decision making in cancer,” all the way up to partnering with the Prostate Centre at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre here in Toronto to pilot the tool and carry out a clinical feasibility study later this year. That journey – seeing something move from discussing around a table to creating something that will hopefully be put into clinical practice in a couple months – it’s truly exciting.
It’s a fascinating project because the decisions are so complex and there’s so much going in the cancer journey for patients as well as the clinicians and staff involved. At the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I believe clinicians effectively get six minutes with the patient at time of diagnosis, and there isn’t enough time to sit down and say, “Here are the treatment options and here is what they really mean and here is the difference in the lived experience for you.” Even if there was time, a lot of the language used is very often impenetrable for most people. On our team, we have a lot of people who specialize in biomedical communications and data visualization and they’ve done work to make all that dense scientific information more understandable to the layperson. By putting it on the website of the Prostate Centre at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, it becomes a resource that many people can use.
Rhodes Project: What motivated you to work in creating strategic solutions for a niche space like healthcare?
Susan Bartlett: Well in some ways, I sort of fell into it. I ended up working at Bridgeable and we do a lot of work creating solutions in that space. But I’ve always found healthcare quite fascinating. I think the trade-offs we have to make in healthcare are very complex because there’s cost of care, there’s the outcome you’re hoping to achieve, and there are side effects and other risks involved, the unplanned nature of the procedures, etc. In sectors like retail and financial services, the interactions are fairly simple in that you’re just trying to a find the level of experience at the price that people are willing to pay. There’s often no more to it than that. Whereas in something like healthcare, nobody wants to be there; no one says, “I feel like having an appendectomy today! Let me go see who is offering the best appendectomy experience!” But we can still try to figure the best way to deliver that care and how you as an individual navigate that.
Rhodes Project: How do you think the IT and Technology Sector can reorganize itself today so as to be more inclusive of the needs of female professionals?
Susan Bartlett: I don’t know if I have a lot of good solutions in terms what the industry can do because I think ultimately, if you’ve got a problem to resolve, you need to resolve it much earlier down the line. I think fundamentally if you want the IT and tech world to be more conducive to women, you actually need to start way early on so young girls are thinking, “Yes! This is something that I want to do.” I don’t think it is the case that firms in Silicon Valley are saying “we’re not hiring women”, as much as many women opt out long before that point. Most firms do have policies in place but if you don’t have a pipeline of women coming up with the skills it doesn’t matter how women-friendly the environment is.
Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in your field?
Susan Bartlett: I would advise her to be fearless and that it’s okay to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. I think a lot of us feel like we don’t know and we’re making it up as we go along. I think women are a little bit more prone to feeling that, “I want to have all of the credentials, be super qualified before I go and do something.” Whereas in so many cases, you just have to take the first step. If you’re building a decision making tool for cancer patients, it would be very difficult to get a lot of experience at doing exactly that before you run a two-year initiative. You just have to say, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m going to be confident in my ability to figure things out, to listen to people as to what their needs are, and to understand the situation I’m in so I can respond in appropriate ways, rather than wait in the sidelines until I know it’s the right time’. If you keep waiting for that right time, then the opportunity will pass you by.
Rhodes Project: What is one piece of organizational/ strategic insight you would give governments today?
Susan Bartlett: I find that it’s incredibly challenging to find opportunities to do our kind of work in the public sector. I don’t think that’s because the public sector wouldn’t find our work valuable but because the approval process is incredibly burdensome. It is much easier to get project approval for fancy marketing initiatives in the private sector than projects that have a broader, society-wide impact. The Therachoice project for instance is our own internal R&D effort. If somebody ever had to sign on the dotted line and say that we will pay Bridgeable to create this thing that improves patient experience, I don’t know if it ever would have happened. Many times when we do work like this it is because we say ‘fine, let’s just go ahead and do it anyway, who cares about the money.’ But obviously, you can only do that so often, and the speed and scale of the impact is hampered by the lack of funding. So my advice to government would be to approach the private sector with more of a spirit of partnership and understanding of the value that it provides. I completely understand the governance issues and why those fences are there, but there has got to be a better balance.
Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?
Susan Bartlett: I exercise quite frequently. I’m training for a 15k race next month and I’m a huge fan of these body pump classes where you go lift weights for an hour to music. I love it because I know I just need to find the willpower to get myself to the class and then it just takes over and I can turn off my brain for sixty minutes. The other thing I do (which is incredibly dorky but I spend a lot of time at) is playing duplicate bridge. I go to bridge clubs once or twice a week and I spend my evenings playing competitive bridge. I like it because when you’re sitting down and you’re playing, you’re just playing cards and you’re trying to figure out where all 52 of them are and what the best play is. Whatever other things you were thinking about work-wise or whatever, there’s no brain-space for it. It’s a great method for total distraction and I love the intellectual challenge of it.
Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy?
Susan Bartlett: I’m a very structured person and I’m sort of infamous for my planning and project management. But I love a completely unplanned weekend. My husband is a brilliant chef and we will go to the St. Lawrence market here in Toronto on a Saturday morning and pick whatever looks delicious. He’ll come home and cook something fabulous and have a bottle of wine and some great dessert with it and we’ll just be without a schedule, without a plan. I think those are the moments that are most joyful.
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