Make a Difference: Healthcare Public Relations

Healthcare public relations is a great industry for college students to consider when applying for jobs and internships. It is an extensive field with applications in healthcare facilities, pharmaceutical companies, non-profit organizations and more. To gain insights about this interesting and essential field, I spoke with Tim Turnham, PhD Executive Director at the Melanoma Research Foundation. Dr. Turnham has spent his entire career in the non-profit space and many years in healthcare, particularly working on cancer issues.

He explained that public relations is used in healthcare settings for everything from proper messaging on a brochure to crisis management.  Public relations is critical because a good PR team can elevate the profile of an organization, efficiently communicate core messages to key demographics, and can help generate sales or donations for an organization.

Dr. Turnham provided the following example to demonstrate how critical public relations is for a healthcare organization, “Melanoma is a life-threatening cancer for which few treatments have been available.  In 2011 the FDA approved two new therapies for metastatic melanoma, after a gap of 13 years in which nothing was approved.  Our PR team worked with staff to get in front of this story and ensure wide spread media coverage.  When the first drug was approved, we had already spoken with a half-dozen papers and television groups, and they had a story ready to go.  The story was covered—and our organization was mentioned and quoted—in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and on NBC.  That year we had 890 million media impressions.”

This is just one of many examples demonstrating the need for public relations specialists in the field of healthcare. Communicating messages like this one can generate new research, inform patients, and save lives.

For students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare public relations, Dr. Turnham recommends gaining experience in the non-profit sector. He also says, “agency experience is invaluable. […] The rigor and drive of a good agency are good training for the non-profit or corporate space.”

Interested in new media? There’s a place in healthcare PR for that too! New media is often associated with consumer-based public relations practices; however, it has developed a key role in the healthcare industry as well. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs can be used to generate conversations with patients and caregivers. Dr. Turnham explains that this helps keep people informed and engaged in what organizations are doing.

Finally Dr. Turnham says, “Healthcare is a great space in which to work.  It is changing rapidly, and can be quite complex.  In other words, you won’t be bored!

At the end of the day, if you do your job well, people will live longer and better because of your efforts.

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