November 2, 2009 4:33 pm | 2 Comments
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Anne Veltema, Marketing Communications Coordinator, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.
How did you get involved in health care PR?
Internships and co-curricular activities while at Central Michigan University. I volunteered at Central Michigan Community Hospital in the nursing department. I then completed an internship in the marketing department. That experience positioned me for an internship with Trinity Health which paved the way for my first job at Metro Health Hospital.
I think it’s important to look at why I got involved in health care as well. The health care industry touches nearly everyone. Who hasn’t been in the hospital? Who hasn’t waited nervously for the test results? Health care is so real to me. A lot of my classmates in college wanted to go into automotive PR and work at metro Detroit agencies. I wanted nothing to do with automotive PR. It’s a car and I drive it. My relationship with cars ends there. Health care, on the other hand, significantly impacts and changes lives on a daily basis.
When it comes to something as personal and private as a person’s health, do you think social media is an appropriate platform for health care marketing/communication strategies?
Social media is an excellent tool when deploying marcom strategies. More and more consumers are looking for health information online. They want to find other people going through the same struggles as them, they want their questions about a certain condition answered and they want to learn more. Social media enables a health care PR practitioner to extend the reach of messaging through technology. It’s important to follow the same privacy guidelines with social media as with traditional media.
Can you speak to some of the unique challenges health care PR pros face?
The hardest and most uniquely challenging part of my job is approaching patients or their parents after a traumatic event. I am the liaison between the media and the hospital so when a reporter wants to talk with a mom whose son is now paralyzed and lying in our hospital after a horrible car accident, I am the one who must approach her to let her know a local TV station wants to talk to her about the situation. When a teenage girl nearly drowns and is on life support, I am the one who has to approach her dad to share the media request.
I always work the nursing staff before entering a patient’s room. I ask the nurse to introduce me. Families have so many things on their mind and my presence is just one more distraction keeping them from their child. If family wants to talk, I help make that happen. If they don’t want to share their story, I help make that happen too.
How do you promote your health care institution both locally and nationally?
Specialties are the differentiating factor of programs and services at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. We are a Grand Rapids-based hospital serving children throughout Michigan. Our marketing and communications initiatives are designed to promote “why a children’s hospital”. We promote our more than 150 pediatric trained physicians and 40 pediatric specialties through a mix of marketing, public relations, community relations and advertising.
What should a student interested in health care PR do to prepare themselves for a career in this field?
There are so many ways for students interested in health care PR to set prepare for success. Ideas include:
- Maintain an active membership in PRSSA including traveling to regional activities and national conferences. I am still in touch with people I met nearly 10 years ago through PRSSA.
- Attend local PRSA events for both learning and networking opportunities. Again, I’m still in touch with professionals I met through attending PRSA while in college.
- Pursue informational interviews with professionals in the city you wish to intern or find a job.
- Write for your student newspaper.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a first impression. Whether it’s at a PRSA meeting, committee work or an e-mail, a professional never forgets a good student or a bad one.
How do you stay competitive in your field?
I stay competitive by following my own advice: networking, education and the pursuit of excellence. Cliché as it sounds, it’s true. Those three tools have worked well for me thus far.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Facebook is a wonderful tool but is not the place to be sharing photos of your Friday night keg stand, spring break adventures in Cancun or anything else you wouldn’t want your grandma to see. I’m not that old to realize these things don’t happen but I don’t want to see the proof it’s still happening. Imagine you land your dream internship and the first day the CEO asks to meet you. She asks you to pull up your Facebook page. Is there anything on there you wouldn’t want her to see? If so, take it down.
I encourage you to find a sector of PR that you’re truly passionate about. I am so fortunate to work in health care PR, more specifically children’s health care, and hope all students are lucky enough to find their calling early on in their careers.
Decide what you want and make it happen. My last semester of college was dedicated to finding a health care job in Grand Rapids. After visiting all the hospital Web sites it became clear no positions were available. I then contacted the PR directors at each hospital inquiring about possibilities not listed on the Web site.
Metro Health was actually looking for someone to work on a contractual basis. I ended up obtaining a doing business as (DBA) certificate and worked on contract for one year. I billed them for my time much like an agency bills a client. It was only 30 hours a week so I picked up a freelancing writing opportunity with a local lifestyle magazine. I was also a substitute teacher on Fridays to earn a full time salary. Not the most glamorous thing for a PR graduate to do but it meant I could do what I wanted to do – work in health care public relations in Grand Rapids. My situation would likely be hard to replicate but it proves preparation and persistence pays off.
Special thank you to Gina Bericchia, who is interested in health care PR, for submitting questions for Anne.