Kimberly Ovitt headshot

A team of ‘torchbearers’ at OHSU

“Torchbearer. It’s not a job you apply for. It’s not a position you’re voted into. The torchbearer is a calling. Answer it and you’ll forever see the world not for what it is, but for what it could become.”

For those who live in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) needs no introduction. And if you’re not in the region, you may have heard of OHSU, not only for the groundbreaking research and medical care happening here, but also for the recent OHSU Knight Cancer Challenge. OHSU met a $1 billion challenge, made by Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny, by raising $500 million in less than two years to earn the Knights’ matching gift.

As we get ready for Delight 2016 and our field trip to OHSU, we spoke with Kimberly Ovitt, VP Marketing & Communications at OHSU. As the brand steward for the institution, Kimberly and her team are helping to build awareness of OHSU’s mission and working to recruit a team of experts who are at the top of their respective fields—a growing team of passionate, visionary torchbearers. We’ll meet and hear from some of them on our field trip.

The power of shared purpose, focus & place

Steve: Many in the Delight community are familiar with OHSU and the Knight Challenge, but for those who are not, what’s one thing you’d want them to know?

Kimberly: Like any major research university, we have a lot of innovation and discovery. The difference is that we focus our research exclusively on problems affecting human health. That shared purpose—a university that focuses solely on human health—really creates this interesting level of forward motion that’s very powerful for an academic institution. I think it influences us to think differently than a lot of universities are able to because we have that common purpose.

I think you add that we exist in this creative mecca that is Portland, Oregon, and you have this unique recipe for the type of innovation, creativity and discovery that happens here.

Racing toward a goal, together

Steve: I love this idea of OHSU being an institution full of torchbearers—passionate people who see the world not for what it is, but for what it could become. What do you think is the most important trait of a torchbearer?

Kimberly: I’m really glad you asked this question. When you think about the Olympic torch relay, it’s a race toward a destination rather than against other people. Those who pass the torch along the way are just as important as the one who gets to light the flame. That’s a really a nice metaphor for what it means to be torchbearers in an institution like OHSU, where you’re doing a lot of that passing on of knowledge. You may be doing research that takes many years to accomplish. When somebody finally gets a cure, it’s often due to all the work leading up to it. That’s very inspirational for people here.

On a more personal level, the idea of a torchbearer is that torchbearers can exist in many different forms. The torch can be a beacon of hope for our patients, a torch illuminating the unknown for students who are learning, or for researchers who are discovering.

The beauty of the torchbearer theme for OHSU is in its metaphorical sense rather than a specific brand behavior. It’s that idea of racing toward a goal rather than competing against others and passing along to one another. It’s beautiful and reflective, and I think that’s why it’s resonated well with people here at OHSU.

Sharing and communicating the vision

Steve: As the brand steward for OHSU, you obviously have an important role, as OHSU is increasingly visible on the global stage. As you’re recruiting and building a growing team of experts who are at the top of their respective fields—this group of torchbearers—how does that inspire the work that you yourself are doing as a torchbearer in your own right?

Kimberly: One of the interesting things about working here is that this is a place where many people are hyper-specialized experts in their field. That makes them really fascinating to talk with because they have a deep, deep knowledge of their area of expertise. But it can create this tendency for people to experience tunnel vision, to get so down in their area of expertise that it’s sometimes difficult for them to zoom back out to a macro level.

I get really excited about the role my team can play in helping people more easily see the big picture. People connect really well here to that big, shared vision of improving human health, and they will cite that as the common denominator. The real magic happens, and I think we still are growing in this way, when we help people understand what their place is in that overall vision and how they relate to others within the organization.

Finally, my team can help our torchbearers articulate and communicate about how what they are doing is relevant to the wellbeing of people in Oregon and beyond. That’s sometimes almost taken for granted as something obvious to them—particularly in the research field, or even in describing certain medical treatments. Once they take the time to explain it, though, there’s often this great sense of broader relevance. It’s just a matter of helping them see the need to articulate what they’re doing and the power in doing that.

About Kimberly Ovitt

Kimberly Ovitt, APR is Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University). OHSU is a public health sciences university and academic health center with more than 15,000 employees and nearly one million patient visits annually. It ranks 25th nationally for NIH research funding. Kimberly leads strategies to spark engagement and support for OHSU. She directs teams in brand strategy, employee communications, media relations, digital strategies, social media, marketing/advertising, creative services and stakeholder communications.
Kimberly came to OHSU in February 2014, with more than 20 years of marketing and communications leadership experience. Prior to moving to Portland, she was Sr. Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She previously served in similar roles at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.