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Eileen Sheil of Medtronic: “Take it a day at a time”

Take it a day at a time. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was easy to become overwhelmed thinking about the worst-case scenario about everyone’s safety and whether we’d ever have “normal” again. Taking it one day at a time helped me cope with the unknown, make good decisions and choices to stay safe […]

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Take it a day at a time. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was easy to become overwhelmed thinking about the worst-case scenario about everyone’s safety and whether we’d ever have “normal” again. Taking it one day at a time helped me cope with the unknown, make good decisions and choices to stay safe and be more patient as things progressed with solutions to bring us back to some type of “normal.”

I am so impressed with the scientists who moved a vaccine to reality for us all. I’m naturally an optimistic person and tried to focus on progress. Learning from the scientists who were working hard on a solution was the light at the end of the tunnel for us all.


As a part of our series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Eileen Sheil (pronounced “Sheel”), Vice President of Global External Communications for Medtronic

Eileen Sheil has spent the majority of her career in healthcare communications. Currently, she is the vice president of global external communications at Medtronic, one of the world’s largest healthcare, technology companies. Prior to Medtronic, she worked at Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, University Hospitals of Cleveland. Sheil has a broad background in communications strategy, crisis/issues management, media relations and advertising. She also serves on the board of trustees at Ohio University and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR).

She began her role at Medtronic three days before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. Medtronic manufactures hospital ventilators, life-saving technology that was critical to saving patients early in the pandemic and before much was known about the disease that was causing serious respiratory distress in patients.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and have been fortunate to build a career in healthcare that has taken me to many places around the world. I received my undergraduate degree in advertising management from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism and a master’s degree in public administration from Cleveland State University.

I have combined my passion for healthcare with my extensive experience in communications to work in an industry that touches every single person in the world at some point in their life. In my role, I get to educate people around the globe about important health issues and treatments that save or improve lives. Since joining Medtronic about a year ago, I have moved to Boulder, Colorado with my husband. We have two daughters in their 20’s.

What has been the biggest adjustment while working from home from your in-person workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

Days after beginning a new job at Medtronic, the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and I was sent to work from home like everyone else. Starting a new job with a new team was a challenge to onboard and get to know the people and company in the right way. With travel and in-person meetings eliminated, it took an extra effort to navigate and learn my new role.

In addition, the division I worked for manufactures hospital ventilators that were critical to caring for COVID patients early in the pandemic, and before doctors fully understood how the virus affected patients who were developing severe respiratory distress.

I’m more of an extrovert and thrive in an office environment surrounded by people to share ideas and to collaborate to get things done. I have not really worked from home previously. So, beginning a new job, in a pandemic, working from home and jumping into a crisis communications role was quite an “adjustment”. Thankfully, I do well with change and ambiguity.

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

From a work perspective, I miss the in-person face time with my colleagues to share ideas and physically work together. That togetherness helps spark new ideas, enables creativity, and drives enjoyment at work for me. It’s difficult to find natural or impromptu connections via Zoom calls that are back-to-back while sitting in your home office.

There is also less time to interact socially with others where more spontaneity and learning occur. I also miss the structure and routine of going into the office. It gives you time to think during your commute about the day ahead or what transpired throughout the day on your way home.

Personally, I miss traveling to see family, friends and having time to vacation. We are social creatures and COVID prevented us from togetherness. As important as it is to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus, it has also prevented us from sharing smiles with those we come across every day whether in our neighborhoods or at local stores and restaurants.

The pandemic was a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic? What do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response?

I think for the first several months, everything felt surreal. I don’t think we could grasp what was happening around the globe, how bad it would become or if it would ever come to an end. When people come together to solve a problem, we are at our best. In a work environment, we learned to move faster and do more with less. I felt calmer without rushing out the door, getting on a plane and having after-work commitments that made for long days and weeks.

Medtronic, for example, had to increase the production of hospital ventilators five-fold. We needed to make 1,000 per week versus our normal production of 200 per week. That was a complicated task that no company could do alone. We open-sourced one of our products that enabled partners to help us with ramping up production because it the best and right thing to do. In addition, we learned how to simplify our work and get things done quicker. I think many lessons were learned for us as a society and as a company to simplify our lives and to be more productive.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

As a life-long Clevelander, my new role at Medtronic brought me to Boulder, Colorado. So, the beginning of the pandemic was also a new adventure for me and my family. Boulder and the Rocky Mountains are stunningly beautiful. We were here throughout the summer and love the outdoors.

The difficult part was learning to divide home from work. The workday became much longer, and the two completely blended. My commute in the car to and from the office allowed for a clearer delineation.

I also found how much I enjoyed just being at home with family. Working from home allowed me to be more present at home. I could roll out of my home office and be with my family in no time to make dinner together and not always feel rushed. I could also step off my porch to a beautiful walking trail with a mountain view!

What has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

Moving away from my family was a big decision. When I moved to Colorado, I felt comfort knowing that I could easily get on a plane to visit my friends and family, including my elderly parents. When the pandemic was declared, I knew that I would have trouble visiting my family and didn’t know when that would be possible again. I didn’t want to put my parents at any unnecessary risk.

It was also difficult to be so isolated from friends, family, work and not be able to travel, dine out, and basically socialize. I’m someone who thrives on being around others, socializing and laughter. Much of that was gone overnight. We’re all in this together, but everyone has different challenges such as young children, elderly parents, job losses, and businesses and restaurants struggling. This pandemic affected everyone in some way. As my colleague once said, “we’re all in the same storm, but different boats.”

The silver lining, however, was that our two college-aged children came home for an extended time. Having them with us as young adults was a wonderful experience that would not have happened without COVID. I also got to spend time in the house with our elderly dog who’s beat cancer three times. My fear was that she would leave us while I was traveling or away at the office.

Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Thank God for technology. It helped us stay connected and find ways to have birthday parties, family gatherings or virtual happy hours anywhere in the world. It allowed us to keep moving forward as a company, a society, and as humans.

Life can get so complicated and busy. I realized how much I actually enjoy just being at home with family, playing a board game with our college-aged children, having dinner together and not having to rush to the office every day.

Take it a day at a time. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was easy to become overwhelmed thinking about the worst-case scenario about everyone’s safety and whether we’d ever have “normal” again. Taking it one day at a time helped me cope with the unknown, make good decisions and choices to stay safe and be more patient as things progressed with solutions to bring us back to some type of “normal.”

I am so impressed with the scientists who moved a vaccine to reality for us all. I’m naturally an optimistic person and tried to focus on progress. Learning from the scientists who were working hard on a solution was the light at the end of the tunnel for us all.

You need to find a way to stay active and take breaks and time off work. Although non-essential travel is still somewhat limited, taking time off for a “stay-cation” is still an important way to refresh, care for yourself and others. You have to be creative, shut down your computer and plan safe activities around your home and neighborhood.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

This, too, shall pass!

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @EMSheil

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eileensheil/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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