Three Lessons from Elisabeth Wang

I met Elisabeth Wang on Zoom in 2021. We are both a part of ICology, a community built for internal communications professionals. The purpose of the Zoom call was to introduce ICology’s new mentorship program, where one seasoned professional would formally mentor an up-and-coming internal communicator for a year. Elisabeth spoke about the importance of mentorship in any professional’s life and ended the call by offering herself as a resource for anyone considering mentoring or becoming a mentee. 

Elisabeth holds the role of Executive Director, Brand Building and Communications at Piedmont Healthcare. Her role and experience intrigued me, so I set out to learn more about Elisabeth and the path she took to get to where she is today. During my interview with Elisabeth, three themes emerged from our conversation: reinvention is revitalization, being your biggest advocate, and people always come first.

Reinvention is Revitalization

“I have reinvented myself three times,” Elisabeth started. She explained that she has a master’s degree in education and began her professional career as an educator. She taught high school English for five years, and that was long enough. She needed something new but did not know the options available for an English educator outside of teaching. Elisabeth started with her network. 

“A friend of mine was a freelance designer at a local hospital, and they were looking for writers,” she recalls. “And I could make subjects and verbs agree.”

In his Medium article, The Importance of Being a Good Writer, author Ilro Lee lists the five reasons all individuals should hone their writing skills. The first reason? “It is important to be a good writer because it can help you get jobs.”

Elisabeth stepped into her first role post-teaching as a business-writing novice but learned quickly about writing for public relations, marketing, and eventually the hospital’s internal audience. “It was an incredible learning opportunity, however, there was no place to grow.”

She realized that if she wanted to continue to grow her career, she would need to move on. 

She started looking for jobs where she could use her business communications acumen while developing new skills in the process. She landed at a remodeling company and hit the ground running. Not only did she excel in the communications role, but she also was offered a sales role – working directly with clients and loving it.

Unfortunately, once the recession hit in 2008, the company was forced to make cuts. 

“I loved the work I was doing, but it was time for me to return to healthcare. That is when I landed at Piedmont.”

She was hired as the Director of Physician Communications and Special Projects with her first project being commissioned by the CEO. “He wanted a way to segment the employee population by audience in order to communicate solely to physicians,” Elisabeth remembers. “I made it happen.”

Since her first role at Piedmont, Elisabeth has been promoted three times. She developed the employee communication function from the ground up, growing her team through growth hiring and mergers and acquisitions. She now manages all of Piedmont’s public relations, internal communications, and the brand – specifically how Piedmont talks about itself externally as well as to employees.

In each of the changes over the course of her career, Elisabeth has seen the possibility, knowing that every experience can be a learning experience. 

In his book Range, author David Epstein makes the argument that generalists, rather than specialists, have the upper hand in problem-solving, cultivating creativity, and achieving excellence. Looking at the path Elisabeth has taken to achieve her current leadership position at one of Georgia’s most prestigious health systems, it is no wonder she is one of the most sought-after thought leaders in the internal communications field. As Epstein reminds his readers, “Specialization is obvious: keep going straight. Breadth is trickier to grow.”

Being Your Biggest Advocate

“What is your one greatest piece of advice,” I asked, then leaned in with pencil gripped tightly. Elisabeth started with a story, as the best communicators do.

She remembered back to her job when she was a college student at Auburn. “I did work study for the Auburn Football team conducting campus tours for prospective student-athletes, loving her time representing the university to different stakeholders.”

Elisabeth explained that as an English major, she did not realize that careers existed in the public relations field outside of her college experience. Her guidance counselor told her that her best bet for success with her degree would be education when really, she should have marched down the hall to the sports media office and asked for a public relations internship. 

Even though she loved her short time as a teacher and made life-long friends, Elisabeth admits she wishes she would have advocated for herself more, so she could have started the work that she loves much earlier in her career.

People First, People Always

My last line of questions centered around meaningful work and mentorship. I asked Elisabeth what the most meaningful part of her job was. 

“The people.”

She did not skip a beat when answering, giving evidence to her people-first conviction. 

“I love watching my team work hard, learn resilience and celebrate their wins.” She beamed when sharing about promoting a couple of very deserving communicators on her team this past December. Elisabeth’s passion for people even comes through on her LinkedIn profile as she admits, “I love helping people become their best.”

Lastly, we spoke about mentorship and the importance of having a mentor and being a mentor. Elisabeth developed the first mentorship program at Piedmont, sourcing mentors and partnering them with eager up-and-coming healthcare professionals. 

“Through the program, an entire cohort of young professionals were being coached and empowered to develop their soft skills in order to serve their teams and ultimately our patients.”

Mentoring in healthcare has become an important topic in recent years, especially as the baby boomer generation continues to retire. As James Riddle states in his 2021 post The Understated Value of Mentorship in Healthcare and Research, “Mentorship is cyclical; by inspiring a mentee we provide them with the motivation to eventually take on the role of the mentor and inspire the next generation of healthcare leaders.”

Elisabeth is celebrating her fifteenth year at Piedmont Healthcare this month. Through my conversation with her, it is easy to see why Piedmont has invested in her development as a leader. Her range of professional experience, advocacy for herself and for her people, and empowerment of those around her to invest in themselves have made her one of the foremost communications executives in the country. I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to get to know her a little more. 

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