Soft options and superheroes
Kate Hersov is a co-founder of the medical comic book company, Medikidz
Kate Hersov is the deputy chief executive officer and co-founder of Medikidz, a company that produces comic books designed to help children understand their bodies, illness, and medical treatments. She qualified in 2004 from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and founded Medikidz with Kim Chilman-Blair in 2009. Medikidz has distributed more than 2.5 million comic books worldwide and generated sales of £3m last year. Its publications include Medikidz Explain Leukaemia, Medikidz Explain Blood Tests, and Medikidz Explain Breast Cancer.
Why did you decide to become a doctor?
My grandfather was a neurosurgeon and I loved to hear about his work when I was young. This stimulated my fascination with medicine and the human body. My father was a medico-legal solicitor in New Zealand, and he warned his daughters against careers in medicine or law, but two of us became doctors and the other two lawyers. Perhaps this is a perfect example of reverse psychology at work.
Was medicine the career you had hoped for?
I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of being a doctor, and the humanistic reward of caring for patients was priceless. I remain passionate about helping people and making a difference. However, I found the day to day experience of the role restricting, and I decided that clinical medicine wasn’t completely fulfilling for me. I wanted to experience the freedom, creativity, and thrill of being my own boss. Kim and I decided to set up our own company for the medical education of children.
What inspired you to co-found Medikidz?
While working in paediatrics, I had become frustrated at the lack of resources which could communicate effectively with children and help them to understand their illnesses. We realised that this was a global problem. This was the catalyst for the development of Medikidz as the concept for our company.
Who are the Medikidz?
Our comic books are about a gang of five superheroes, called the Medikidz. They come from planet Mediland, which is a planet shaped like the human body. Research indicated that this format would be a fantastic way to engage young people and to convey difficult concepts, as well as being able to span age range, literacy, and culture. We’ve since discovered that parents find them helpful too.
We have now published 60 comic book titles for 8-15 year olds explaining different diseases, as well as booklets and brochures educating young people on procedures and medicines. We also have a series of titles relating to adult conditions, to help children understand their loved ones’ illnesses. The publications are written by a team of doctors and comic book writers, peer reviewed by world renowned specialist doctors and endorsed by global healthcare institutions.
Do you have any regrets about your career decisions?
I love being an entrepreneur and working in business, and I am passionate about what I do. I admit that making the transition from medical doctor to entrepreneur was a challenge: moving from dealing with blood test results and reading x rays, to understanding profit and loss and balance sheets was certainly an enormous learning curve. However, I wouldn’t swap what I’m doing for the world.
Leaving clinical medicine is sometimes considered a “soft option.” What would you say to critics?
I don’t believe it’s a soft option at all. It is incredibly daunting to leave employment that has a high degree of job security and a defined path for career progression. It also takes a huge amount of courage to break away from people’s expectations.
What are the major challenges in your job?
It can be difficult to keep persevering in business. Many people said that Medikidz would never work. We were told that the business model was flawed, and even that children shouldn’t be told about their diseases. I am proud that we stuck to our goals. We have realised that it is essential to keep moving forward, adapting and developing new ideas. We are now moving into digital media such as digital comics, motion comic animations and medication reminder apps—we want to become the global brand for children’s health.
Another challenge for any professional is striking a work-life balance. I have a 20 month old daughter and two teenage stepsons and there is a constant tug of guilt about not being available all the time. I have tried to make Medikidz supportive of this. When my daughter was very small, my office was transformed into a mini nursery and she use to come into work with me and sleep in a crib behind my desk.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of being involved with Medikidz?
The best part is the wonderful feedback we have received from people whose lives have been touched by Medikidz. We interact closely with groups of children affected by illness, both in research prior to producing the medical education and in gathering their invaluable feedback.
How would you reflect on your career so far?
Leaving clinical medicine and starting up a company in a relatively unchartered area was challenging. It takes a lot of determination to move away from the crowd. But when I hear from a child that they were helped by a Medikidz publication, I know that we are doing the right thing.
Ginn S. Comic books and psychiatry. Student BMJ 2011;19:d6091
1University of Bristol
Competing interests: Bronwen Warner was awarded a bursary by the University of Bristol Swindon Academy for a placement with Medikidz
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2014;22:g214