Dr. Bella Smith is a GP with over 20 years’ experience, whose purpose is to inform about medical conditions, inspire people to have a healthy lifestyle and to make a powerful impact in their lives. Dr. Bella is passionate about reaching out to busy women to provide honest medical information and lifestyle advice. She acts as a GP advisor to The Eve Appeal, has featured on Sky News, BBC Radio and Channel 4 and has had articles published in the national press.
Hey Bella, can you introduce yourself to us?
I am Dr. Bella Smith, an NHS GP. I set up The Digital GP to promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage everyone to take control of their own health.
Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?
I have over 20 years of experience of being a Doctor in the NHS having qualified from Nottingham University. The junior doctor years were tough, working extremely long hours but I learned so much and that experience has been invaluable to my career. By the time I was in my early 30s I had become a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, a Member of the Royal College of GPs, I was married and a mum of 2 children.
I set up The Digital GP in 2017 initially to provide medical information to my own patients in my surgery but it has become bigger than I ever dreamed. I started as a regular guest on BBC radio Suffolk with an incredible presenter called Thordis Fridriksson, and we talked ‘all things medical’ for an hour every month for 8 months. From there I was asked to be a GP Advisor for The Eve Appeal Charity, a national UK charity raising awareness and funding research into the 5 women Gynaecological Cancers. I was very excited to work with such a fantastic charity and in particular, I loved being involved with the #getlippy campaign last May. With The Eve Appeal, I took part in panel events at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Global Radio and was a guest on Radio 4 Women’s Hour talking to Jenni Murray. I attended events at the Houses of Parliament for Ovarian Cancer awareness, I co-wrote an article with Sarah Stacey for the You Magazine and had a mention about my website in the Daily Mail. Since then I have been interviewed live on Sky News, written an article on the menopause for SheerLuxe and most recently been part of #nutrition4drs with Jamie Oliver on Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast.
What is a day in the life of you like?
My life is busy and varied. On the days that I work in general practice, I am at the surgery around 7:30am and can see around up to 50 people in a day dealing with physical health, mental health, chronic disease, acute disease, disease prevention, lifestyle advice, and health education. Within general practice, my main interests are Dermatology (skin) and Women’s Health. I am trained to use a dermatoscope to look at abnormal moles and lesions to see if they are skin cancer. As part of women’s health, I insert Coils and contraceptive implants and deal with women’s health issues including the menopause, HRT and gynaecological health. Other days I run minor surgery clinics removing unwanted skin lesions, and I run a weekly Aesthetics clinic treating thread veins and using botox to treat excessive sweating and facial wrinkles.
My health and self-care are important to me and I exercise daily, varying it with running, strength training with a personal trainer and yoga. I thrive on having a challenge on the horizon. Last year I ran 2 half marathons and 5 x 10k races, I completed the Boss Hog muddy run, ran up Cuilcagh mountain in Ireland and did a parachute jump from 13000 feet. I have a gorgeous husband and 2 young children so family time is precious.
What is the concept behind The Digital GP?
The Concept of The Digital GP is to Inform, Inspire and Impact. This is to inform people about health conditions, to inspire people to have a healthy lifestyle and to make an impact on peoples’ lives.
The Digital GP was set up in 2017 in order to inform my patients in a relaxed and opportunistic way and inspire them to lead a healthy lifestyle. In General Practice I often see patterns evolving and recurrent topics that patients want to know about or find embarrassing. So I started recording podcasts and writing about these topics making them available to more people to read or listen to in their own time. A good example of this is the Mirena Coil contraception. I insert these regularly in my surgery and many women would like to know more about them to weigh up the pros and cons of having one for themselves. When talking about the Mirena I say the same thing each time and so it made sense to me make a recording to save time both for myself and for my patients. This video is now available on my website for women to watch in their own time.
My aim for The Digital GP is to bring the information out from within the walls of my surgery to a wider audience. This is still general practice but moving forward with the new digital era.
How is The Digital GP funded, is it bootstrapped, self-funded ect?
The Digital GP is self-funded at present.
Can you tell us the reason why you are offering free honest medical information to busy women?
I feel passionate about health education, raising awareness for cancers and symptoms and improving communication for women. If we can encourage women to talk more openly about some of their health issues we could save lives. I want to promote a good lifestyle, the importance of a diet and regular exercise for good health. It is easy to go onto the internet and try to self-diagnose or find out information about health conditions and I want to share information that is free and honest from a real GP.
Can you highlight 3 main reasons why women tend to put their own health last, resulting in some suffering in silence?
- Lack of time. Women are often the lynchpin of a family – looking after themselves, their partners, their elderly parents, and their children. They hold down busy careers and their time is precious. For this reason, women often put other family members’ health before their own.
- Normalising symptoms.Conditions like the menopause or even some cancer symptoms can be subtle and can ‘creep up on a woman’ when she is not expecting it. It is easy to normalise these symptoms or ignore them.
- Embarrassment, there are certain conditions and symptoms that women find embarrassing to talk about. I would like to try to break down these taboos and encourage women to talk.
Who does the team involve behind you at The Digital GP?
The team currently involves me, an amazing web designer called Stu Lanham and the brilliant Becca Barr Management team. (www.beccabarrmanagement.co.uk)
Where can you see yourself within the next 3-5 years?
My dream is to inspire men and women across the globe to take control of their health by promoting health and lifestyle on social media, radio, TV and writing books. I would like to collaborate with other health professionals, brands and charities to raise awareness for different diseases and promote screening tests. I would like to do regular public speaking and start-up women’s health events locally with a view to bringing it to a wider audience. A secret dream of mine is that I would love to do a TED talk one day and write a book.
What strategies do you have in place when looking at the expansion of The Digital GP?
Locally I am working with Suffolk County Council to create a Women’s Network for public speaking events to discuss topics like The Menopause. I am also doing public speaking events with my local fitness club Airborne Fit to discuss the importance of exercise.
For wider expansion, I have recently joined the books of Becca Barr Management and together we are hoping to improve my presence on social media with a view of TV and radio in the future.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally?
It is a constant battle trying to balance work and life, to be both a good mum and a good doctor is hard. I love being a doctor but one of the hardest things is having to work when the children are unwell and I would rather be at home looking after them.
Have you ever had any other mentor? If so how has this benefited you to grow?
Over the years I have had many brilliant mentors, colleagues, family, and friends who have inspired, guided and moulded me into the person I am today. I am forever grateful for the guidance, support and constructive criticism from all these amazing people. I now regularly see a life coach who helps me understand my goals and my direction. I also have an incredibly supportive husband who keeps me on the straight and narrow.
What outlets do use to market The Digital GP?
I am using as many avenues of media and social media as I can, word of mouth and public speaking events.
Which methods are you using to build your own support network?
Connecting with like-minded, inspiring, enthusiastic people.
What do you believe are the common misconceptions about women’s health and how are you using your platform and voice to educate people more?
There is still a great deal of embarrassment involved in women’s health. I still find it incredible that the word vagina is not allowed on some radio shows as it might ‘offend people’. Surely the correct anatomical name shouldn’t offend? I am a firm believer in teaching our children the correct terms of our anatomy so that they feel confident to know when to seek help and not to be limited by embarrassment.
What would you like to see changed for millennials in business?
More opportunity and support for young women in business. To encourage women to reach for the stars.
What is the best piece of business advice you have received to date?
The best advice I have been given is to be authentic and true to myself. Once you know this then the rest follows naturally.
What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned in your career so far?
To always be kind and to treat everyone with the utmost respect. I work in a small community and often I will see a patient and then find out later that it is a friend’s mum or a close relative. It is so important to always do my best, uphold complete confidentiality and treat everyone with the greatest respect.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
This is a constant challenge and as soon as I feel the Work/Life balance slipping then I have to make some changes. I have created a weekly timetable so that I know when I am at work when I exercise, when I am The Digital GP and when I am with friends and family. This Christmas I had a digital detox for a week over Christmas because as much as I like social media it can really get in the way of family time.
A seminal point in your career so far?
A seminal point in my career was being given the opportunity to be on my first ever Panel Event in London with The Eve Appeal, ‘Talking Taboos’. It was organized by Peanut and hosted by Michelle Kennedy. Other panel guests were MotherPukka, Freddie Harrel and Athena Lamnisos, the CEO of The Eve Appeal. It was my first public speaking event and to say that I was nervous is an understatement, but I loved it and it taught me so much. It made me realise that I don’t need to limit myself to being in a GP surgery but I can go out there and help spread the word about health. The more we talk, communicate, educate, the less embarrassed people will feel and the more lives we can save.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
I love my job and find great satisfaction on a daily basis. This can range from making a medical diagnosis to giving close daily support to someone who is unexpectedly devastated by bereavement. From meeting a new baby at 6-week check to ensuring someone is comfortable and pain-free in their last days of life. Just knowing that I am making a difference gives me such great satisfaction.
What challenges have you seen to have been presented during the growth of your business?
My biggest challenge is myself, my self-doubt and my fear of being criticised. I have been on a great journey over the past 4 years where I started with an idea and kept telling myself all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it. Then my dad said to me 2 years ago ‘Bella, the saddest thing that could happen in all this is not if you fail, it is if you don’t try it in the first place’. So I just went for it and as time goes by my confidence has grown.
Which other leading entrepreneurs and pioneering game changers do you also admire and why?
Michelle Obama. I admire her for her strength and her passion. She is loyal, fair and kind with strong family values. I also admire her incredible public speaking, a skill that I can only ever dream of achieving.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I have just read ‘How To Own The Room’ by Viv Groskop. I could not put it down and I found it so helpful with learning to do more public speaking, I highly recommend it. I also loved reading ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory. I am fascinated by The Tudors, the way women were treated in history and their bravery. I have now just started reading ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed.
Top 3 go-to Podcast channels?
- ‘You, Me and The Big C.’ This is my number one as it is one of the bravest, most inspiring podcasts that I have ever heard. This is all about ‘the club that no-one wants to join’. It is 3 brave women Rachael, Debs, and Lauren talking very openly about their cancer journey. Tragically Rachael recently died from breast cancer and this makes this podcast even more important to listen to.
- ‘In The Pink’ with Natalie Pinkham. I love listening to these, Nats is a natural at interviewing with awesome guests.
- ‘House of Rugby,’ I am from Northampton and have grown up following Northampton Saints. Both my husband and I have just started listening to these podcasts and we find them funny yet refreshingly honest with a fantastic insight into the world of professional rugby.
How do you define success?
Success is going to bed at night knowing that I have done my best. Success is to live life to its fullest, to love, to be kind and to enjoy every day. Life is a gift. Life is short. Success is making the most of life.
Instagram: @thedigitalgp and @beccabarrmanagement #thedigitalgp #drbellasmith