The Health Care Industry from the Perspective of a New Pro

If I were a betting woman, I’d say my experience as a new professional in the health care industry is similar to other New Pros’ positions. The skills we use are generally the same — just applied in a different way.

The daily life of a New Pro is quite different than that of a student or intern. The transition can be challenging. Working for a small, growing drug-testing laboratory, I received a great deal of responsibility early on that spanned all areas of communications.  One minute I was designing our two quarterly newsletters and the next I was producing and hosting an educational video series for the Web. From day one, I was pushing past my limits and gaining responsibilities with which no company had ever entrusted me as an unpaid intern. I was dabbling in design, communications, event planning and management. If I had to sum up my biggest responsibilities into a brief job description, it would look something like this:

  • Design: I create and edit all promotional materials, including brochures, direct mailings and quarterly newsletters, for current and potential clients.
  • Exhibit coordination: I manage our attendance at more than 30 conference exhibitions, working with conference sponsors and third-party vendors, as well as representing the company at a number of conferences myself.
  • Team leader: I coordinate larger marketing projects, including the overhaul of our website, identity package and overall brand image, with third-party firms
  • Writing and editing: I write and edit copy for promotional materials, the website and our two quarterly newsletters.

What’s more important than a list of my duties, I think, is an overview of the skills expected from me on a daily basis.

  • Self-starter. The training wheels are off. Gone are the days of endless small tasks at an internship or syllabi from professors. In my position, I am expected take a lead role and tackle projects before they are assigned to me, as well as contribute new ideas .  Make suggestions, take risks, make mistakes and try again. A positive energy and willingness to participate and learn outweigh mistakes.
  • Flexibile, multi-tasker: In the current economy, not only does a new pro have to be flexible when choosing what area of public relations or advertising to work in, they have to be willing to change direction at a moment’s notice. Companies want someone who can work well under pressure and stay calm when their routine (if you even have one) is disrupted. I don’t know how many times a week a printer will break down or a colleague needs a promotional piece by tomorrow, and I have to drop what I’m working on and tend to the urgent matter. It’s all part of the fun in public relations.
  • Fast learner: To be honest, my undergrad self never would have guessed that I’d be working for a drug-testing laboratory after graduation. I’ve never been a science buff. My employer didn’t expect me to know the industry before they hired me, but they did expect me to be open-minded and pick up knowledge quickly. Today, I communicate to current and potential clients our wide range of services and the science behind them. Being a fast learner goes hand-in-hand with being a self-starter. When I come up with new projects for the marketing department, I’m assigned to master software I’ve never seen or social media I’ve never used. To achieve our goals promptly, I have to learn sooner rather than later. And, with the public relations and technology changing at a rapid pace, there is always a new tactic with which to familiarize myself. I frequently attend workshops and seminars, including those provided by PRSA, to continue my professional education.

So, the only question left is, how does working in health care differ from other areas of public relations?

Working in health care has been more rewarding than any other position I’ve held. What I do on a daily basis directly affects the health and lives of others.  If selling just one more drug test aided in the treatment of one newborn, it’s all worthwhile, isn’t it? Health care may be surrounded by uncertainty right now, but the uncertainty has opened up opportunities for great impact. Working for a lab may not be as glamorous as a “Mad Men” agency setting or working public relations for an entertainment giant, but your clients and colleagues are passionate about what they do. I consider that a privilege for any professional in the work force today.

Heather Sliwinski is the marketing communications manager at United States Drug Testing Laboratories, a forensic laboratory providing alcohol and drug testing services to hospitals, government agencies, social services and drug treatment programs. Before joining the USDTL team, Sliwinski graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communications and a certificate in business. She has held positions with a nonprofit, a Fortune 100 company and her university. Sliwinski is a member of the PRSA Chicago Chapter, as well as the New Professionals Section and Health Academy. Feel free to connect with her at Sliwinski@uwalumni.com or find her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/heathersliwinski.

2 thoughts on “The Health Care Industry from the Perspective of a New Pro

    • Author gravatar

      I am also a new pro in the health care industry. While my PR degree and graduate work certainly helped me get in the door, my social media skills sealed the deal.

      In June 2010 I completed Drury University’s Graduate Certificate in Social Media Program. http://socialmediacertificate.net/the-nuts-bolts/ I learned a tremendous amount about modern media and what the future may hold.

      I began an extensive job search in July. Since then, I have received three employment offers (all career opportunities) from leading health care providers and health care services companies.

      Each of the hiring managers specifically mentioned my social media skills as the deciding factor when evaluating my application in relation to the other top candidates.

      I highly recommend Drury’s program to anyone searching for an edge in today’s competitive job market.

    • Author gravatar

      Heather,

      You mentioned that the tasks you typically did during your internship were quite different from the things that you do as a new pro. Is there anything that you would suggest that current students to do in addition to an internship to better prepare themselves for work in PR?

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