A View from the Former Chair

Communication is defined as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news” and is a “means of connection between people or places.” It can be an extremely powerful and important tool, but difficult to get right, especially with the types of challenges we face in the Department of Medicine.

Communication is one of our top priorities and I’d like to share with you some of the initiatives and progress that we have made in this area. 

Challenges

The largest department at both the University of Washington and the UW School of Medicine, the Department of Medicine comprises 14 subspecialty divisions, six residency programs and 32 fellowships. Our size and diverse programs can create silos where individuals may feel isolated and disconnected. We are also geographically dispersed. 

Assessment

In June 2015, we hired Pyramid Communications, an outside consulting firm, to help us improve communications in the department. They performed a communications audit, which included:

  • Assessment of our current communications tools
  • Informal focus group with division heads and administrators
  • Faculty survey
  • Website assessment

Findings

  • Overall, the amount of information received is “about right”
  • Most people read and like our weekly newsletter (DOM Week)
  • Most prefer to hear from us via email
  • Very few follow us on social media
  • The internal process for voting on faculty appointments/promotions is cumbersome

Recommendations

  • Use an email management tool to help manage email subscriptions and avoid duplication
  • Develop a stronger editorial voice for the weekly newsletter
  • Communicate department priorities
  • Increase faculty interaction by offering opportunities to engage and collaborate across divisions
  • Strengthen links between department and division websites

Communications initiatives

In response to the findings and recommendations, we have implemented the following communications initiatives:

Website

The new DOM public website was launched in December 2015. Some select features:

Screen shot of menu on faculty section of DOM public website

Voting

In April 2016, we sent out our first faculty vote using MailChimp. This system allows voting options to be embedded in the email itself, to make voting easier. It also allows us to send reminders only to those who have not voted, making it possible to avoid sending duplicate emails. 

DOM Communications Task Force

In January 2016, I charged a task force to recommend best practices for communication in the department, based on the recommendations by Pyramid Communications. The task force was also charged with developing editorial guidelines.

Task force members

I would like to thank the members of this task force: Amy Fields (co-chair), Tom Gallagher (co-chair), Brad Anawalt, Lindsay Collins, Kelli Corning, Gina Franco, Conrad Liles, Somnath Mookherjee, Paul Nghiem, and Estrella Weaver.

Task force initiatives

The task force identified and addressed the following needs:

Mechanism to communicate with residents and fellows more effectively

Pyramid only surveyed our faculty and division leadership, so the task force recommended we send a communications survey to the residents and fellows to gather feedback on how best to communicate with these groups. The findings from these groups were similar to the faculty and leadership groups.

Cohesiveness and uniformity across department websites

Rob Remington joined us in February 2016 as a web manager. He is in charge of the web framework, which is a centrally-run content management system for websites in the department. This framework offers a cohesive look and feel, and we centrally provide technical support and security updates to all units on the framework. Nearly all 14 divisions are currently updating their websites using this framework.

Increase traffic to website

In addition to using the weekly newsletter to drive traffic to our website, in September, we piloted a postcard project to increase awareness our website. We distributed the postcard across the department in various settings, such as faculty meetings and grand rounds. Traffic to our website increased by around 25 percent during this timeframe.

Highlight department priorities

Department priorities are communicated primarily through the Chair’s blog, which is on our website. We also announce new blog posts in the weekly newsletter.

Outreach

We started an outreach program to highlight each division and/or program throughout the year. The spotlight is featured on our website and in the weekly newsletter.

Share best practices for communications

We have a section on our public website to share communications best practices, such as writing effective emails, using social media, formatting written material for maximum output, and writing for the web.

 

Improving communication will be an ongoing process. I welcome comments, questions and suggestions regarding department communications, or any other topic. I am proud of the work we have done so far in this area, and will continue to support efforts to connect individuals in our department through effective communication practices.