Although she officially received her MUDr title at her graduation ceremony in Karolinum’s ancient Great Hall in July, Kateřina can boast of having saved 36 lives – cancer was discovered in 34 people in time through Loono’s preventive programmes, and two more people recognised they had serious heart problems on the basis of Loono’s new campaign.
Kateřina founded Loono three years ago in order to promote the importance of self-examination, and awareness of and responsibility for your own health amongst the general public. She founded Loono based on her own experience as a patient, when at 22 years of age she was given that dreaded diagnosis: cancer.
Kateřina set out to combat not just the disease, but also the low level of public awareness, particularly amongst the young. In 2016, Forbes nominated her amongst the “30 most talented Czechs under the age of 30”.
Loono and its witty information campaign which does not frighten, but rather informs of the necessity to self-examine your breasts and testicles, drew the attention not just of young people, but also the general media. Over the whole time Kateřina was studying hard at the medical faculty, she had two jobs, one paid as a project manager and the other in Loono, unpaid until this August. During her studies, she undertook specialist placements in Austria and Portugal.
Loono today comprises over 70 volunteers – educators and the main organising team made up of 10 collaborators.
This year, besides completing her studies at Charles University’s First Faculty of Medicine, Kateřina also completed a placement at Harvard, undertook an inspiring trip to San Francisco and launched another campaign with the Loono team, this time focused on prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Kateřina Vacková is an example of young social entrepreneur who is our first recipient of ATAIRU Authentic Leadership scholarship for young leaders and we`re proud to be guides on her journey.
Each meeting I have with Kateřina is incredible inspiring. I admire how much energy this beautiful and petite young lady has in her, I listen with wonder of her vision and plans and I cross my fingers for her. Kateřina calls herself a citizen of the world, and her desire to change the world is not just a proclamation, but something she is demonstrating in real life every day and in every step she takes.
I first met Kateřina at a talk for Oxford and Cambridge university alumni. Speakers are often nervous in front of an audience used to high-level debate, but Kateřina didn’t show it. She began her talk with the firmly posed questions: “When did you last have a preventive examination at the doctor’s? Do you know what examinations you are entitled to? And when did you last undertake a self-examination?”
One might be so bold as to claim that Kateřina looks after fitness within her own team. As the organisation name, Loono, is not subject to declension as standard Czech words are, anyone from the internal team who says it incorrectly has to do three push-ups. Luckily this only happened to me once during the interview…
Kateřina, in July you got your MUDr title. What has changed since your graduation?
I’ll begin with the graduation. I was at the graduation ceremony, a wonderful occasion, with my whole family; it was moving and my parents were proud. Personally, I had been wondering for a while whether to do clinical practice after graduation or whether to concentrate on Loono. I think I would have felt bad not focusing on Loono. So I started in August, becoming the first person working there on a full-time basis, and now I’m enjoying spending every day dedicated to the organisation, and even in the first 14 days we have made incredible progress. We have expanded our team, we’re still recruiting, we have successfully applied for a grant and we’ve gained another sponsor. Sponsors are really important for us right now; I’d like to be able to employ more people full-time and I would also like to expand the scope of our education, to focus not just on the general public but also to have the opportunity to educate medicine students who will then educate others. I don’t want them to have to take up part-time work in fast-food joints, but rather that they have the opportunity to acquire practice in the field they are going to be working in, while also receiving a certain remuneration to help them, e.g., in financing their student dormitories. Over the past two years when I have had the opportunity to work with medics, I have observed what experience they have gained and how this has subsequently helped them in their medical profession.
You yourself represent the emerging generation of doctors, and you have also had the opportunity during your placement to work in the hospital at Harvard University. What insights have you taken from the USA?
Positive ones. I believe in us, the new generation of doctors, but I also greatly appreciate the previous generation. Healthcare is at a great standard in the Czech Republic, well organised, compared to abroad we have markedly shorter waiting times both for examinations and operations. Since healthcare here is paid for from the public health insurance system, a comparison with the USA or the UK is not always appropriate, but even compared to countries with the same funding system we come out very well. Our doctors are skilled. I would advise the upcoming generation to support two areas in particular: interest in innovation, and also communication with patients. At Harvard I saw that although our American colleagues have better equipment
and a different style of work, our qualitative medical education and approach to patients are entirely on a par.
You didn’t want to stay in the USA; you returned to complete your studies and focus fully on Loono. In the meantime, however, you also stayed in San Francisco. What did you bring back for Loono from there?
I went to San Francisco on holiday to relax and practise yoga. I enjoyed the coffee bars and galleries. Naturally, I had loads of discussions about preventive healthcare in the USA, and I visited Silicon Valley in order to find out more about the latest projects and start-ups in the healthcare field. I received great feedback on our work and the results we have achieved despite our limited funding. Everyone around me supported my belief that we should expand Loono and its activities into other countries. I also had the opportunity to meet with Czechs working in Silicon Valley in some great companies or start-ups. The stories of people who have decided to set out and take up work in a foreign country for large projects are always a great inspiration for me. I myself have had this experience during my placements in Austria and Portugal.
What are you most proud of about Loono?
Definitely the 34 lives saved through prevention, and also my whole team. When I was beginning, I was worried whether someone would join me, would believe in my idea and spread it to the world with me. People want to co-operate with us; Loono is now perceived as a brand others want to work for, and we are given as an example of good practice in non-profit organisation communication. I’m blushing, but I’m glad we can inspire others in how to spread your own mission effectively.
Regarding prevention, do Czechs value their health?
I wouldn’t want to relate this question to Czechs alone. In general I think the situation is improving. People are seeking out health information on their own, are more open to changing their habits in regards to a healthy lifestyle, very often on the basis of a personal meeting. After my stay in the USA, I consider myself a citizen of the world, so I think everyone on this planet, regardless of race, gender and nationality, deserve high quality accessible information on preventive care. And this is the mission I’m now setting out into the world for.
Loono is a leader in terms of non-profit organisation communication, this interview is for Leaders magazine; how do you see yourself as a leader?
I personally still see myself as a junior leader. I’ve been leading Loono for under three years and I learn something new every day. Every bit of feedback I get from the team or people I work with through Loono also moves me forward. I also ask a lot of questions of older and more experienced businesspeople and mentors.
Leadership as such, for me, is about kindness and an individual approach. Only in this way can you support and motivate your team at the same time. A strong vision is also important, and your management and actions must follow this vision, both in your working and personal life. It would be very difficult for Loono to serve as an example of a healthy positive lifestyle if I myself didn’t exercise five times a week, didn’t meditate or didn’t eat healthily.
Let’s discuss your vision more; what will Loono look like in the coming years?
It will certainly become a global organisation, though I can’t give you a precise timescale. I myself want to find out more about other countries and their cultures, and I also want to help develop people. I think everyone needs to know about prevention, regardless of their country of origin. We can open this up anywhere where there is a medical faculty, and hopefully we will then be able to even in areas without one. And there’s more! Imagine some kind of Erasmus work programme being established in Loono for students who want to try working not just in another country, but also with other specialists from other fields to aid them in preparing for their careers. Loono is not just about medics; our team includes specialists in communication, PR, marketing, social media, HR and more. Team members can enrich each other. I want to help everyone equally, and I have great plans and also great self-confidence.
A final word?
Look after yourself in time, be active for the good of your body and for life in general. If my story and Loono’s message has touched you, then support us!
The interview was published in Czech & Slovak magazine.