Skip to main content

In July 2011, Kate Granger fell ill while on holidays in California. Upon returning home to England, the 29-year-old British doctor was pretty certain she had cancer, but awaited test results in hospital.

"I'm in pain and alone. A junior doctor comes to see me to talk to me about the results of the MRI scan I'd had earlier in the week. I'd never met this doctor before," Dr. Granger recounted in an interview with Cancerworld.

"He came into my room, he sat down in the chair next to me and looked away from me. Without any warning or asking if I wanted anyone with me he just said, 'Your cancer has spread.' He then could not leave the room quick enough and I was left in deep psychological distress."

Dr. Granger had desmoplastic small round cell cancer, a rare form of sarcoma that was untreatable. She probably had only months to live.

The coldhearted manner in which the news was delivered shocked her, both as a patient and as a physician.

She started writing a blog, The Other Side of the Bright Side. Writing was cathartic, but the way she was treated didn't really change.

In August, 2013, Dr. Granger was admitted to hospital for surgery to replace stents draining her kidneys. Staff routinely referred to her as "bed #7" and "the girl with cancer."

She was not treated as a person, but as an object on which tasks were performed.

"I just couldn't believe the impersonal nature of care, and how people seemed to be hiding behind their anonymity," she recalled.

But, one day, when she was to be transported from the emergency room to the urology department, something remarkable happened. "Hello, my name is Brian," a porter said. He asked if Dr. Granger was comfortable, found an extra blanket because she was cold and chatted while pushing the gurney. "He had genuine kindness," she recalled.

Dr. Granger noted that, when people introduced themselves, it was comforting and made her feel safer and more like a person than an illness. Dr. Granger sent out a tweet noting this with the now famous hashtag #hellomynameis.

Her spontaneous "Hello my name is" campaign urging health professionals to introduce themselves to patients, touched a raw nerve. The hashtag has now been used more than one billion times.

More than 400,000 staffers with the National Health Service in England embraced the philosophy, and there are offshoots in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Canada.

As Dr. Granger noted, in her blog, her public speaking, her books and her tweets, the introduction is not just about common courtesy; it's about establishing a human connection.

There is much inhumanity in modern medicine, most of it inadvertent and due to health workers being rushed and overburdened. But being busy does not excuse callousness.

Dr. Granger often wrote about how being a patient can be scary and confusing. The people who come in and out of hospital rooms in scrubs are often indistinguishable, their roles unclear; white coats symbolize authority and, as much as anything, they serve to silence patients.

Giving your name can change that dynamic a bit. So too can how language is used, for example: "What questions do you have?" instead of "Do you have any questions?"

In addition to her impactful #hellomynameis campaign, during her years of terminal illness, Dr. Granger raised £250,000 (about $435,000) for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre in Leeds.

In her final weeks, she tweeted regularly from her bed at St. Gemma's Hospice in Leeds, using the cheeky hashtag #deathbedlive. She was forever praising staff, and reminding her 48,000 followers how, in health care, the little things matter.

Dr. Granger died on Saturday night, "peacefully and surrounded by loved ones," her husband, Chris Pointon, posted on Twitter.

She warned everyone in advance that they better not say she lost her battle with cancer. "I would like to be remembered for the positive impact I have made on the world, for fun times and for my relationships with others, not as a loser."

Dr. Granger should not to be remembered as a young doctor who died tragically at 34, but as a patient who improved care for countless others, a legacy that will grow with every introduction.