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🔦Spotlight on Ellen Coughlan🔦

Ellen Coughlan (she/her)

Programme Manager, The Health Foundation

Contact: Email:

Twitter: @EllenCoughlan

What does your job actually entail?

I spend the first half hour writing a list of everything I need to get done for the day (colour coded in pastels, naturally), which more often than not means meetings with different award holders to trouble-shoot their challenges, discuss their progress and think about what opportunities lie ahead. I might have a conversation with former award holders to hear their reflections and find out how they’re sharing their work, I often share these conversations in a fortnightly thread. Keeping in touch with projects that we’ve funded in the past is an important way to learn about how to create sustained change in the health and care system. At the moment I’m working with the RSS to write the criteria and guidance for this year’s Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Healthcare Data Analytics, which recognises analytics teams in the UK health and care system that have gone above and beyond (and is an utter joy). We also do a lot of work to contribute to the national conversation around data analytics, so I could be working on blogs or long-reads with colleagues, or planning presentations for different events. Besides the interesting bits, I’m usually writing budgets and contracts and updating project plans.

When not at work you can be found...

Haggling for the best deals at Columbia Road flower market, running along Regent’s Canal at sunrise, or selling books at the Oxfam Bookshop in Islington.

Why did you join the DSxHE community?

I loved the idea of a cross-discipline, cross-sector community that welcomed all sorts of perspectives and experience to answer the question – how do we achieve health equity through data science? Through the pandemic, we’ve heard devastating stories of inequality and inequity becoming further entrenched. The time is now to look beyond institutional barriers and organise ourselves to establish change.

What would you like help with from members of the DSxHE community?

I want to know what everyone’s wildest ideas and dreams are. What problems do you need solving? What would help you tackle the thorny issue of health equity in your role?


What's your interest in data science and/or health equity?

Studying social epidemiology for my Health Psychology MSc articulated a sense of injustice I had felt seeing people face different outcomes and inequitable access to services depending on their means, or where they live. I moved into roles in mental health and general practice with a keen interest in how we apply analytics to understand and solve these challenges. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to make use of the technologies at our fingertips to benefit everyone, and that we are careful that the development and application of novel methods promotes equal outcomes and equitable access to care, rather than exacerbating existing inequalities. An important bedfellow of health equity, I think, is engagement and involvement. We should seek to elevate the voice of the individual and reflect their lived experience – otherwise how do we know if we’re solving the problem?

What's a recent book you've come across on data science and/or health equity that you found interesting and why?

Last year I finally read The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, which explores how inequality manifests across health and society. Richard Wilkinson has done much work with Michael Marmot on social determinants of health, and this book looks at the issue through a lens of income inequality. It brought into sharp focus that achieving health equity is challenged by systemic structures that will only be overcome if we can work as a system to address them. After reading Darcy’s profile I ordered the book that they recommended and loved that, too (thank you Darcy!).


What is the strangest thing you ever saw while walking down the street?

I once had the honour and privilege of witnessing a Staffy riding a bike outside a Greggs in Bristol.

What is your favourite thing to do in the summertime?

Taking a long, balmy bike ride to the countryside with a rucksack full of treats & a radio. A tip for you - keep empty jam jars and fill them with ice before you go. They’ll stay cold for hours and by the time you’ve reached your picnic spot – voila – you’ve escaped the misery of warm wine.

What quote resonates with you?

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.’” – Kurt Vonnegut


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