University of Otago graduate Rachel Carrell is now chief
executive of UK online doctor service DrThom. Photo
Rachel Carrell jokes that the only theme in her life
story has been that she quite likes "doing random things".
The former University of Otago student is now at the helm of
DrThom, the UK's largest online doctor service, which is
aiming for turnover of 10 million this year.
Living in London is a far cry from growing up in
Invercargill, where she was dux of Southland Girls' High
School. And while her job is far removed from her doctorate
topic - Ecuadorian politics - she could not be happier.
"I think this is my dream job," the former Rhodes Scholar
told the Otago Daily Times.
Ms Carrell studied politics and linguistics at the University
of Otago, graduating at the end of 2001.
She was heavily involved in the Otago University Students
Association, serving as vice-president, and the university's
She described her university years as a "hugely formative
experience" and she kept in touch with "loads" of fellow
Just before graduating, she was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship
to study at Oxford University.
She worked for management consultancy firm McKinsey and Co in
Auckland for six months, before moving to the UK to take up
the scholarship, an experience she described as "awesome".
Two years were spent doing her masters degree, then a year
and a-half to convert it into a doctorate.
When it came to Ecuadorian politics, "I almost kind of stuck
a pin in the map", she laughingly recalled.
Initially, she did not speak Spanish and had to take lessons.
Before going to interview the likes of former presidents of
Ecuador, she wrote down her questions, but could not
understand the answers.
She recorded them on tape and hoped that by the time it came
to listen to the tapes, her Spanish would have improved, she
Ms Carrell returned to work for McKinsey and Co in London,
working in banking, retail, oil and gas - "all sorts of
different sectors"- and spending time working in South
Africa, Russia and Siberia.
She also worked for the National Health Service, running
strategy and innovation teams in London, before joining
DrThom was founded by Dr Thom Van Every, a UK trained doctor
specialising in sexual health.
In 2006, it became the first online organisation to register
with the government regulator of healthcare, the Care Quality
Describing it as "a whole new dawn for healthcare", Ms
Carrell said it made healthcare more efficient and
Prescriptions were provided in a safe way "as opposed to a
dodgy way" and it was "absolutely reputable".
It saved people having to get a doctor's appointment to
obtain prescriptions "for things that are really simple".
Some of the top-selling prescriptions were erectile
dysfunction treatment, contraceptive pills, asthma inhalers
and sexual health treatment.
A lot of embarrassing conditions were treated.
Anecdotally, a lot of men did not go to the doctor for
treatment but would use an online service.
DrThom doctors were able to give them health advice at the
same time, she said.
There was also a "huge problem" with access to GPs in
England, with people often waiting up to a week for an
The service was "definitely not for everyone or for every
occasion" and about 10% of people accessing the service were
Since its launch in 2007, it had treated 300,000 patients and
there were plans to expand to New Zealand and Australia.
There were five general practitioners employed and, another
advantage was that they were all in the same room and were
talking all the time, so there was always a second opinion.
Ms Carrell, who described her job as "super-exciting", said
the length of her stay in the UK was the "classic story" that
she would never be there that long.
The original intention was to stay for two years, then for a
further two years.
"Now I don't know quite how long I'll be here."
Her parents now lived in Dunedin and it was to Dunedin that
she headed when she returned to New Zealand, a country that
she missed "hugely".
"I absolutely love to come home once a year. Otherwise I get