Author: Gurjit Chahal

Time for reflection: The best advice I would give to my younger self

by Gurjit Chahal |

Throughout my career I’ve been passionate about helping others through coaching and mentoring. I’ve been lucky to have been inspired and supported by great leaders and it is important for me to do the same and give back.

This is why I chose to take part in the Taylor Bennett Foundation mentoring programme this year. Designed to address the need for greater ethnic diversity in the communications industry, the 6-month programme enabled me to support a talented Junior Account Executive who had started her career in a healthcare communications agency. It was a very rewarding experience as we both learned a lot from each other. My mentee got support with building her skills, knowledge and confidence and is now due for a promotion. I got insight into the experiences of young professionals working in this industry and what more needs to be done to champion change for the future. In particular, I took away the importance of:

  • Having more open and honest conversations about diversity, equality and inclusion at work
  • The need for ongoing education
  • Listening to different perspectives
  • Supporting diverse talented people so that once they’re in this industry, we’re able to retain them, make them feel valued and help them thrive.

Listening to my mentee’s challenges and opportunities, made me think about how similar my experiences were when I started working in healthcare communications. It’s helped me reflect and if I was to do it all again, the 5 pieces of advice I’d share with my younger self would be:

  1. Be curious and keep learning: Read, get involved in new projects and learn from other industries – it doesn’t have to just be healthcare. Energy and enthusiasm go a long way!
  2. It’s ok to ask for help: Teamwork is vital in this industry and it’s good to hear different points of view and it doesn’t need to rest on one person’s shoulders.
  3. Stay positive: This can be tricky when things go wrong but a solutions mindset has really helped me from going on a downward spiral and learning from challenging situations.
  4. Slow down: While we work in a fast-paced industry, slowing down can help with coming up with new and fresh ideas and delivering quality work. Also, career progression doesn’t have to be a rush – gaining knowledge, experience and appreciating opportunities in the moment is valuable.  
  5. Be yourself: I certainly felt different from others when I started in this industry over 14 years ago because of my ethnic background and how others sometimes negatively perceived where I was born and raised in the UK. However, my life experiences have helped build my confidence, resilience and shaped the person I am today. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to shy away from my background and can educate others about my heritage. And while it’s important to be professional, showing your personality and fun-side has really helped me enjoy work and make great friends along the way.

Writing this blog has made me reflect on my experiences at Makara Health. Although I’ve only been with Makara Health for just over 18 months, it has felt much longer (in a good way!). I’ve been privileged to work with so many diverse and talented people who are not clones of each other! What I’ve really valued is the support, growth opportunities and being ‘in’ it together. As I prepare to go on maternity leave this month, I’m excited about the next chapter in my life and returning next year as a mum, ready to learn and continue to grow 😊.

Embracing creative communications to tackle vaccine hesitancy

by Gurjit Chahal |

The challenge is underway to vaccinate people against COVID-19 and we’ve seen great strides made in the UK, with the government pledging that all UK adults will be offered the vaccine by the end of July this year, which could be met even sooner. While we have demonstrated we can meet this huge logistical challenge, the impact of vaccinations will only be effective if we have high uptake rates.

A key barrier to uptake and a major public health concern is vaccine hesitancy. UK research shows high levels of mistrust about vaccines. For example, 14% of people have reported unwillingness to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, whilst 23% were unsure. Reasons for hesitancy include safety concerns, preference for natural immunity, concerns about commercial profiteering and general distrust in the benefit of vaccines[1]. This is likely to be compounded by recent coverage from Europe and beyond, raising doubts around the Oxford vaccine.

The levels of distrust are even higher among ethnic minority groups1. Growing up in an Indian family I know first-hand the number of times I’ve had to explain to elderly relatives the importance of following the latest scientific evidence in medical care.  Addressing these issues is critical since ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and many are working on the frontline.

My view is that a major part of vaccine hesitancy is due to these groups hearing misinformation through word of mouth and non-scientifically supported sources. This is driven by cultural factors including strong community interdependence among the older generation. To address this problem I think we need more creative communications which connects in the best possible way with the target audience and inspires change for the better. Putting it simply it’s not what you say but how you say it.

It’s great to see creativity being applied to the challenge in mainstream media. Firstly, last month the UK’s major broadcasters aired a #TakeTheVaccine campaign encouraging ethnic-minority communities to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The video united prominent figures, including Adil Ray, Moeen Ali, Denise Lewis, Romesh Ranganathan, Meera Syal, David Olusoga and Beverley Knight, who address vaccine hesitancy among ethnic-minority communities and debunk myths about the vaccine.

Secondly, we can incorporate more fun and humour into communications. For example, in addition to the comedians featured in the #TakeTheVaccine video, there is the potential for other influencers to deliver impactful communications that can go viral. For example, Dolly Parton who reworked Jolene after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Finally, in addition to the top-down approaches above, we need grassroots campaigning by collaborating with local religious leaders, community groups and influencers who can deliver authentic, empathetic, and trusted messages to a wide audience. This work started last year when Adil Ray created stay-at-home videos tailored for British Asian audiences.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new issue and we’ve seen the impact on key vaccination programmes such as MMR and HPV. However, if we look beyond boundaries and limitations, we can counter-balance misinformation with creative and relevant content like the #TakeTheVaccine campaign. This cut through the noise and did a great job of building an emotional connection with audiences and has the potential to help change beliefs and, through them, behaviours.


  1. Paul E, Steptoe A, Fancourt D. Attitudes towards vaccines and intention to vaccinate against COVID-19: Implications for public health communications. The Lancet Regional Health – Europe. doi: 10.1016/j.lanepe.2020.100012.