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How Did You Become A Healthcare Marketer?

Posted Jun 26 2013 8:39am

I remember when my step daughter was graduating from Kindergarten – during the ceremony they went around the room and asked each child what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many of the children gave the kind of answers you’d expect; they wanted to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut or President of the United States. I was really proud of Meg who bucked the trend and declared that she wanted to grow up to be a rancher.  (The truth is she wanted to be a rancher who was also an artist.) It won’t surprise you to learn that no one expressed a desire to become a healthcare marketer. It’s just not something people think about or even know about at a young age.

So many of my friends are healthcare marketers of some sort. Some work in the digital realm, some are PR professionals, some are masters of integrated marketing, and others are graphic artists, writers and programmers. I’m curious to learn what professional path each individual followed to become a healthcare marketer. You have to know there are some great stories out there, and there were probably some major twists and turns along the way.

I’ll kick it off by sharing the path I followed:

College Internship: I left the University of Vermont after the fall semester of my sophomore year and headed down to North Carolina where my father had taken a position with the University of North Carolina System. Poverty (student loans) was the primary determining factor. So I enrolled at UNC for the spring semester with a curiosity about medicine/healthcare as a career. With that in mind, I accepted a paid internship with the nurse recruiting office at NC Memorial Hospital. The internship gave me the opportunity to meet all of the nursing leadership within the hospital – amazing people like Fran Ross, Sandy Evans and Rita Kubicki. The woman who hired me, Dia Stokes, was married to the man who would become the VP of Marketing for UNC Health Care, John Stokes, who would later become my client, friend and mentor. I didn’t see that coming when I was 19-years-old.

When my internship ended my contacts and friends within the nursing department encouraged me to take a job working nights as a nursing assistant at NC Memorial Hospital. I worked on the medicine side of a cardiovascular med/surg floor (6A/6B of the main bed tower). In that role I learned a ton – most significant was a respect for nurses and the job they do. Wow. It has stayed with me all these years. Based on that experience I also decided that being a doctor was not for me.

After spending way too much time in graduate school, I became a professional communicator and started my career marketing political candidates, and then quickly moved into broadcasting. My dad had worked in broadcasting and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. For a few years I managed a community radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In that role, I had the good fortune to work with Durham Regional Hospital (now part of Duke Medicine). They were one of my clients and my contact there was Bernard Kingsley who gave me an education in hospital marketing. Together with his staff, I helped to create and produce a weekly radio program called “Community Health Update.” This was back in 1991-1992. Each week we would cover different health topics and interview physicians from Durham Regional Hospital. Now 20 years later I’m still interviewing physicians and marketing key service lines within hospitals.

In 1995 I was hired by Jennings and immediately went to work on the UNC Hospitals account. Working with John Stokes and his team at UNC, we built the integrated UNC Health Care brand, bringing together more than 50 distinct brands under the single UNC Health Care umbrella. I led the focus groups and developed the methodology that we used to test the brand and its graphic representation. It was amazing to be a part of that rebranding effort, and I was hooked!

When John Stokes retired from UNC Health Care, I fell under the mentorship of Karen McCall, the new VP of Marketing and Public Affairs. Karen was responsible for helping me to get my first industry conference speaking engagements as well as my first publishing opportunities. She also made me go out and buy my first fancy brief case which I carried with me to my consulting engagements with her internal clients. Looking back, it seems odd given most people I know today carry backpacks rather than brief cases; but it was important at the time and became part of my young healthcare marketing consultant persona. I don’t carry the formal brief case any longer. I’ve replaced it with the air of authority that comes with greying hair.

So that’s my story, what’s yours? I want to know. How did you become a healthcare marketer? Please leave a comment with s synopsis of your professional history.


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