From Stethoscope to Strategy: How Dr Simon Benson is living his purpose
When Simon Benson moved to Melbourne in 2013, he was a young doctor eager to help his patients live healthier lives. Ten years later, as Bupa’s Clinical Director for Connected Care, he’s focusing on connecting care for millions of Australians to make it easier for them to look after their health.
Born and raised in England, Simon Benson always wanted to be a doctor. His fascination with the human body led him straight from school to the University of Bristol, where he studied human physiology and neuroscience, then medicine as a graduate. He paused only for a brief detour into the corporate world of mergers and acquisitions, which he quickly realised wasn’t for him.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the human body and how it works. The human body is the most amazing machine that’s ever existed. I wanted to be able to deeply understand how the machine works and also how to put it right.”
After graduation, Simon cut his teeth in hospital rotations – paediatrics, emergency, surgery, and internal medicine. Then the big question came: what was he going to specialise in?
“The idea of being a left toe surgeon didn’t fill me with love. I believe more in preventative work than reacting all the time, and I liked the idea of being a generalist.”
Simon also knew human connection needed to be part of what he did.
“I love the connection you can have with patients at their best and worst times, and everything in between, to support them through those journeys. I enjoy getting to know people and becoming part of their trusted circle.”
That left him with three options: emergency, general practice, or obstetrics. He decided on general practice and finished his training in 2012, heading straight to work in clinics.
But he still couldn’t settle down. Instead, he found a voluntary post as a doctor at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Then, just months later, he decided to move to Australia for a year.
That was ten years ago.
In Melbourne, Simon hit the ground running. He found a job in Sunshine – the same clinic he worked at until June 2023 – and supported its digital transformation as one of the first clinics in Victoria to offer online booking. He has trained other GPs and medical students at the University of Melbourne.
When Covid hit, life became more intense for Simon. He advocated for removing telehealth restrictions, helped set up respiratory centres around Victoria and set up a Priority Primary Care Centre to help keep locals out of hospital.
But emerging out of Covid and the arrival of his daughter put a new spin on things.
“After such an intense period, I knew I needed to scale back on some of the patient contact,” he said.
Simon saw a part-time job advertised for the Clinical Lead for Blua, a new digital health platform powered by Bupa to help members find, book and attend online appointments with doctors across Australia 24/7.
It was not only perfect timing, it was an excellent fit for Simon’s experience.
“It focused on preventative medicine, digital medicine, and new models of care – everything I was interested in at that point.”
Looking back now, Simon says one of his proudest moments at Bupa is being part of the team that delivered Blua.
“The work of the whole team over the first 12 months was outstanding. It often relied on people not being worried about what their job title is and just doing a job that needs to be done.”
Simon believes that was one of the critical drivers for Blua’s success and is a valuable part of the culture at Bupa.
“Most people at Bupa are not worried about what their job title is or their scope – if they can do something to help, they will.”
Helping people live healthier lives
When Bupa advertised the Clinical Director of Connected Care role in mid-2023, Simon thought long and hard about whether to apply.
“I really ummed and ahhed about whether I wanted to do it. It was a full-time role and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give up face to face medicine yet.”
But when he tried to pinpoint why, he came to a realisation.
“I liked the idea that I’m helping someone in their health journey and improving their health outcome. As a doctor, my guiding principle is always, “How do I help my patients live their best life?”
“Then I realised I can still do that as a Clinical Director – not on a one to one basis like in a clinic, but to our membership of four million people.”
After a competitive application process, Simon was appointed to the role – something he sees as a real privilege.
Having been in the position for a few months, Simon comes alive when he talks about the core purpose of his role.
“Bupa’s purpose is ‘helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives’. By leading the clinical strategy for Connected Care, I work on the ‘healthier’ and make sure that what we do is worthwhile.”
There’s no doubt this role requires a distinct set of skills and experience, and Simon is uniquely placed to bring them to the table.
“To achieve strategy direction at a very high level, you need experience of treating people first hand and have to know how the entire healthcare system works. I think that’s where employing a GP to do it makes it easier, because we’re touching different parts of the healthcare system every day,” he said.
“While specialists, like hip surgeons, are all focused on their own vertical lane, GPs sit horizontally across all the health journeys an individual will have and coordinate those journeys. That helps me to provide value by way of experience. I know how the health system works and I understand how to integrate journeys that one individual might have across multiple touchpoints.”
Simon admits there was a learning curve moving from health into a corporate environment, but it wasn’t a difficult transition. As with all things, he took the challenge in his stride.
“There are lots of transferable skills I can draw on as a GP. We are experts in communication and reading people, understanding their motivators and personalities.
“This means I’m able to adapt and modify my approach when dealing with different people – a very handy skill to have in a dynamic corporate environment!”
With the courage to embrace change, it’s no surprise that one of Bupa’s values particularly resonates with Simon.
“As a doctor, I’m caring and responsible by nature. But being brave is particularly important to me.
“Within healthcare, we try to adopt a no-blame culture. You need a no-blame culture to enable your teams to be brave. If people are afraid they will be blamed for mistakes, you can’t learn from them because they don’t share them.
“It’s important for me to be in an organisation that celebrates the ability to speak up, be brave and let new possibilities happen. It’s important to be able to share a voice and know that you’re in a safe space to do that.”
At Bupa, even though he’s no longer connecting with patients daily, Simon gets satisfaction from feeling respected and valued as part of a team.
“Everybody needs to feel heard and valued. I need to feel my contributions are worthwhile and that I’m contributing to a solution rather than just being noise,” he said.
Simon’s career journey is a testament to the limitless possibilities for clinicians and a reminder that career paths are rarely linear. But most importantly, at Bupa, he’s doing work of which he’s really proud.
“It’s a real privilege to lead the clinical strategy for Connected Care as the healthcare subject matter expert. The strategy we are creating is ultimately helping millions of people live longer, healthier and happier lives – I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
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