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Dr. Claire Lemer

In the heart of London's esteemed medical community, Dr. Claire Lemer serves as a beacon of innovation and compassionate care. In 2014, she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to children’s health, a testament to her profound impact. She has also been recognized by the Health Service Journal's Rising Stars list as one of the "25 healthcare leaders of tomorrow”. Yet, despite these accolades, Dr. Lemer embodies the essence of humility and teamwork. "Success is about teamwork and I couldn’t be where I am today without my colleagues," she reflects. Her journey, marked by prestigious degrees from Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and the University of London, and her contributions to public health, quality improvement, and clinical leadership, underscore her commitment to elevating pediatric healthcare. 

Dr. Lemer's dedication to a collaborative approach in healthcare - ensuring that GPs, hospitals, schools, and social care services unite to provide optimal care for children - mirrors her belief in the power of integrated care. "We’re looking at things from child and family perspectives to see how we can make improvements to children’s healthcare," she states, highlighting her visionary approach to healthcare improvement. Through her work, Dr. Lemer not only challenges conventional approaches but also nurtures the next generation of healthcare leaders, making her story a compelling narrative of leadership, innovation and dedication to pediatric health.

Igniting the spark 

As a child, Dr. Lemer was the archetype of an academic soul - introspective, shy, and deeply immersed in the world of books and learning. Her inclination towards solitude and contemplation might have easily led her down a path far removed from the interpersonal demands of medicine. Yet, it was the compelling allure of healing and science that beckoned her to step far beyond the familiar comforts of her world.

The seeds of this calling were sown in the early mornings spent poring over the pages of The Guardian, where the poignant narrative of a journalist battling AIDS unfolded week by week. Through this column, Dr. Lemer encountered the raw intersection of humanity and medicine, a fusion of personal struggle and scientific endeavor that moved her deeply. This wasn't merely a story of illness; it was a testament to the human experience, marked by vulnerability, resilience, and the profound impact of compassionate care. The journalist's candid account of his journey through the early days of the AIDS epidemic provided Dr. Lemer with a glimpse into the power of medicine not just to treat, but to touch lives in their most fragile moments.

Simultaneously, the turmoil in the world and the plight of refugees captured her young imagination, not for the politics, but for the humanitarian crisis it represented. The articles about Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and their work in refugee camps didn't just add to her burgeoning sense of global awareness, they ignited a spark within her. The idea that she could be a part of something so crucial, offering care and hope in situations of dire need, resonated with her sense of purpose. It was a revelation that one could wield science and compassion in equal measure to make a tangible difference in the world.

Years later, reflecting upon the poignant articles catalyzed Dr. Lemer to actively engage in her own humanitarian work.  For example, she spent time with a work colleague in the refugee camps in Lesbos during the Syrian immigration crisis. As she described, “I could not get up every morning and look myself in the mirror knowing I was not doing something active to help.” Confronted with the harsh realities of providing medical care in such challenging conditions - treating patients in tents, with limited medical supplies that could withstand the heat - Dr. Lemer was reminded that the essence of medicine often lies not in advanced technologies or treatments but in the simple, compassionate care for each individual. “It reminded me that so much of medicine…is about simple care, such as playing and drawing with the children who came for review rather than treating them as objects.” Her experiences in Lesbos, especially her efforts to bring moments of joy and normalcy to the children amidst their upheaval, underscored the profound impact of seeing and treating patients as whole beings. These formative experiences not only shaped Dr. Lemer’s humanitarian work, but also reinforced her belief in the power of empathy, care and connection in medicine.

Thus, from the quietude of her early years through the compelling narratives of human suffering and resilience, Dr. Lemer found her calling. Medicine, with its unique blend of science and humanity, offered her a path to engage with the world in a manner that was both deeply challenging and immensely rewarding. This journey, rooted in the empathy stirred by distant stories of suffering and courage, laid the groundwork for what would become a distinguished career dedicated to the health and well-being of children.

During her teenage years, an accomplished surgeon inadvertently crystallized her resolve to pursue a career in healthcare by attempting to dissuade her from entering the profession. She was told that being a physician was "no job for a woman," which only served to fuel her determination. Far from being deterred, this challenge acted as "a red rag to a bull," propelling her forward with even greater resolve.  The very notion that her gender could be seen as a barrier to her aspirations in medicine only intensified her passion. It was a testament to her character that, rather than being dissuaded, she was motivated to prove such archaic views wrong. This episode reveals not just the personal tenacity and resilience that have come to define Dr. Lemer's career, but also highlights the broader challenges faced by women in medicine - a field that, despite progress, continues to grapple with issues of gender equity.

Dr. Lemer's journey to medical school, therefore, was not just a pursuit of a professional dream but also a statement against the gender stereotypes that sought to limit her ambitions. Her experience underscores the importance of challenging and overcoming societal barriers, showcasing her as a trailblazer for aspiring female doctors everywhere. Moreover, her narrative illuminates the complexity of her motivation; it was not a mere fascination with science that guided her, but a profound desire to impact lives through healthcare.

Reflecting on her undergraduate years, Dr. Lemer candidly admits that the heavily science-based curriculum did not entirely captivate her. Yet, it was the clinical experiences, with their direct human interactions, that left an indelible mark. She recalls the daunting task of engaging with her first patient, a moment fraught with the challenge of navigating intimate conversations and examinations. This experience, characterized by the vulnerability and trust inherent in the doctor-patient relationship, underscored the immense responsibility and privilege of practicing medicine. It was through these early clinical encounters that Dr. Lemer began to truly appreciate the depth and breadth of what it meant to be a physician - not just a scientist, but a caretaker of human health and dignity.

Mentorship as a force multiplier 

The transformative power of mentorship has made a profound impact on Dr. Lemer’s journey, shaping her approach to medicine and leadership. The fortuity of being selected by the dean of her medical school for personal mentorship marked a pivotal juncture in her career. This mentor, a distinguished cancer specialist and the leader of a major cancer charity in the UK, provided not just guidance but a model for how to intertwine humanity with the rigors of medical practice.  Each term, the Dean invited the four randomly selected students that he was mentoring for informal gatherings.  Their conversations transcended the boundaries of academia and delved into personal choices and ethical dilemmas.  

Dr. Lemer's experiences with mentorship did not end with her ongoing tutelage as a mentee of many of the brightest minds in healthcare. She pays this investment forward. On one occasion, she encountered a young healthcare professional on the cusp of abandoning medicine.  As they were walking to the train station one evening, Dr. Lemer asked about her life.  She was the first person in her family to go to university.  “She had been a pharmacist, a GP and she was retraining as a pediatrician with three young kids…we started talking, and after about 20 minutes, she said to me, this is the first time anyone has ever asked me anything about my world.  I'm on the brink of leaving medicine because I feel so disenchanted with it.”  Through engagement and genuine interest in her colleague's life and struggles, Dr. Lemer mirrored the mentorship she had received. By simply initiating a conversation, she offered support and understanding that rekindled her colleague's passion. 

Mentorship, for Dr. Lemer, is not a mere exchange of knowledge but a profound connection that can alter career trajectories and renew spirits. Her story exemplifies how mentorship extends beyond professional development into personal growth, illustrating the cascading impact one individual can have on many. Dr. Lemer’s actions embody the ethos that nurturing the next generation of healthcare professionals is integral to the evolution of the field. The legacies of her mentors live through her, in the lives of those she has touched, shaped and inspired. 

When humility meets serendipity and opportunity

Dr. Lemer's trajectory into the field of pediatrics was not predestined but emerged from a serendipitous blend of opportunity, curiosity, and, by her own admission, a stroke of luck. Initially uncertain about specializing in pediatrics, her rotation in the field during her internship was a revelation. The experience was transformative, sparking a passion for pediatric care that would define her career. It was this unexpected love for pediatrics that propelled her into residency and fellowship, fortuitously at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust - a place she has come to call her professional home. Here, she found not just rigorous training but a community that nurtured her growing commitment to pediatric healthcare.

Dr. Lemer's path was marked by pivotal moments of decision and chance encounters that shaped her future. Her academic journey itself was a testament to her resilience and the sometimes capricious nature of fate. Despite not meeting the initial grade requirements for her university of choice, her exceptional performance in additional exams she undertook for personal enrichment swayed the admissions decision in her favor. This blend of hard work and happenstance is a recurring motif in Dr. Lemer's story, illustrating her belief in making one's own luck through dedication and a readiness to seize opportunities as they arise.

International growth and a Harkness Fellowship

A significant turning point came with a personal challenge: the decision to move to the United States for familial reasons.  Resolute in her dedication to medicine, Dr. Lemer negotiated with her training program to secure a leave that would allow her to explore opportunities in the US without forsaking her medical career in the UK. This determination led her to the Harkness Fellowship, a prestigious program which is run by the Commonwealth Fund and was previously supported by the Health Foundation.  Unbeknownst to her at the time, this opportunity would profoundly influence her perspective on healthcare policy and patient safety.

Working with Dr. David Bates in Boston, as part of her Harkness Fellowship, Dr. Lemer delved into the complexities of medication safety and electronic health records, areas where she identified a critical need for improvement. This experience not only expanded her expertise but ignited a fervent advocacy for a healthcare system that prioritizes patient safety and accessibility. Her time in the US transformed her from a clinician focused on individual patient care into a passionate advocate for systemic healthcare improvements, demonstrating the impact of international collaboration and learning on personal growth and professional development.

Navigating the labyrinth of healthcare, business and policy

Dr. Lemer's foray into the intricate world of public health and healthcare policy has been shaped by the 2.5 years she spent supporting the UK Department of Health and the World Health Organization. This time not only broadened her understanding but also deepened her commitment to patient safety and quality improvement. The culmination of this arduous yet rewarding period led her to pursue an MBA at Oxford, a decision spurred by her realization of the gaps in her understanding of the business side of healthcare.

Dr. Lemer's academic ventures, including her time at the Harvard School of Public Health and later at Oxford, were not just about acquiring knowledge; they were about building a foundation that would enable her to navigate and influence healthcare systems with confidence and insight. Her experiences taught her the value of asking difficult questions, a principle that she carried forward into a consultancy role with McKinsey, where she contributed to the development of healthcare offerings for mid-sized hospitals. The role not only honed her project management skills but also exposed her to a diverse network of professionals and ideas, further enriching her perspective on healthcare delivery and management.  Dr. Lemer continues to pursue development opportunities and is currently participating in the Future Vision program, contributing her expertise in healthcare innovation and leadership to a dynamic, interdisciplinary group of senior leaders.  

Dr. Lemer's unique trajectory, characterized by a blend of clinical practice, policy work, academic achievement, and management experience, exemplifies her multifaceted approach to healthcare improvement. Her ability to traverse these diverse domains with ease and impact highlights her exceptional capacity to synthesize knowledge and experiences into actionable strategies for systemic change. 

Picking Up the Pen: The Art of Authorship

Dr. Lemer has co-authored two books which have helped to evolve the narrative of healthcare leadership.  Both books are reflective of Dr. Lemer's broader mission to foster a healthcare environment where clinical leaders are equipped with the tools, knowledge and perspective to navigate and shape the complex systems within which they operate. 

The genesis of Clinical Leadership: Bridging the Divide was born out of a collective desire to challenge the traditional dichotomy between clinical practice and healthcare management, promoting instead a vision of integrated leadership where clinical insight and administrative acumen are seen as complementary, rather than contradictory forces. Effective healthcare requires a melding of diverse skill sets and perspectives. By bringing together the stories of clinicians who dared to traverse the perceived divide between patient care and management, Dr. Lemer and her co-authors sought to illuminate a path for future healthcare leaders, advocating for a model of leadership that is holistic, inclusive and adaptive to the changing demands of healthcare delivery.

MBA for Medics, co-authored with Emma Stanton, further explores the intersection of medical practice and business acumen. Recognizing the growing interest among clinicians in acquiring management and leadership skills, this work addresses the practicalities of pursuing an MBA and other management qualifications within the context of a medical career. The book serves as a guide for those contemplating this educational journey, offering insights into the various pathways, funding options, and the potential impact of such qualifications on one's career in healthcare. Through this work, Dr. Lemer aims to demystify the process of blending clinical expertise with business strategy, emphasising the value of diverse knowledge in driving healthcare innovation and improvement.

Elevated Bedside Manner: Care Delivery Through a Patient’s Eyes

In 2017, Dr. Lemer's own near death experience profoundly reshaped her understanding and approach to healthcare delivery. The incident, which left her “physically broken”, offered her an invaluable perspective on the patient experience, one that was starkly different from her role on the other side of the equation as a healthcare provider. Her interactions with the orthopedic surgeon, who sought to ease her discomfort by addressing limited family visiting hours, highlighted the unique challenges and opportunities for empathy and change within the healthcare system.

This experience illuminated for Dr. Lemer the profound impact that clinicians can have by stepping into their patients' shoes, even in seemingly small ways. It underscored the importance of viewing healthcare delivery through the eyes of those it serves and recognizing the individual needs and concerns of patients and their families. Her realization that personal experiences can inform and inspire healthcare improvement led her to work with the Health Foundation, exploring and sharing her insights on the patient experience.

Today, Dr. Lemer stands physically healed from her harrowing accident, having triumphantly returned to running - including a marathon - a testament to her resilience and determination. This physical recovery, however, represents more than just a return to health. The experience marks a profound transformation in her approach to healthcare. The accident and its aftermath deeply impacted Dr. Lemer, instilling in her a heightened appreciation for the patient's perspective and the indispensable value of empathy and active listening in medical practice.

By putting herself in the shoes of those she serves, Dr. Lemer not only resolves immediate challenges but also champions a model of care that is responsive, inclusive and deeply humanistic.  Dr. Lemer’s approach to patient care has evolved to place even greater emphasis on listening to the stories, goals and desires of families. By inviting patients to share their experiences, she has been able to address frustrations, implement changes, and tailor care in a manner that truly resonates with the people it aims to serve. This shift towards a more narrative-based, empathetic model of care not only enhances the patient experience but also enriches the practice of healthcare providers by fostering a deeper connection to the lives they impact.

Carving a Path at Guy's and St. Thomas' 

Dr. Lemer’s work at Evelina London, part of Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust marked a significant milestone in her journey, where she spearheaded the development of what would eventually be recognized as an integrated care system for children. This initiative, groundbreaking at the time, required not just vision but the ability to translate that vision into a tangible reality. Dr. Lemer's approach - melding hearts and minds, operational savvy, and relentless determination - set the foundation for a system that is fundamentally transforming children's healthcare delivery in the UK.

One of the most striking aspects of Dr. Lemer's work has been her hands-on approach to overcoming the challenges of data sharing within the primary care system. Her dedication to personally visiting each GP surgery to secure data sharing agreements has been crucial in operationalizing the integrated care model, demonstrating her capacity to bridge divides and foster trust among healthcare professionals.

A tenure as Clinical Director at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and later, an opportunity to lead transformation efforts at the hospital, saw Dr. Lemer embark on yet another steep learning curve. Here, she navigated the intricacies of capital project planning, funding regimes and the challenges of envisioning and executing large-scale hospital transformations. Her work in this arena not only required an understanding of the technical aspects of healthcare infrastructure but also a nuanced approach to leadership and change management.

Shaping a Bright Future 

As Dr. Lemer contemplates her future, and the legacy she hopes to leave within the healthcare system, her reflections are imbued with a sense of purpose and an acknowledgment of the complexities of effecting change. Her aspiration to make a significant impact on the way care is delivered is evident, yet she candidly admits to the challenges of pinpointing precisely how and where her efforts will be most impactful. This uncertainty is not a hindrance but rather a testament to her openness to exploration and her commitment to finding the most meaningful path forward.

The notion that the future is not solely shaped by individual desires but also by the opportunities that arise speaks to Dr. Lemer's pragmatic yet optimistic outlook. Her career, characterized by diverse experiences ranging from clinical practice to policy work and beyond, exemplifies her adaptability and her readiness to seize opportunities that align with her values and goals.

Dr Lemer is excited about embarking on her next role at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s  NHS Foundation Trust as the Chief of Strategy and Innovation. Remaining tethered to her clinical roots, she stands at the crossroads of executive leadership and hands-on patient care, embracing the uncertainties and opportunities that define the dynamic landscape of healthcare. Dr. Lemer’s story illustrates that the path to making a difference is not linear but a series of meaningful choices and chances, each shaping the future of healthcare in profound ways. Her journey, characterized by resilience, innovation and a deep commitment to care, continues to inspire and challenge the norms, reminding us that the heart of medicine beats strongest when driven by a desire to serve, learn and lead in an ever-evolving world.


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