Sara Fest got her first taste of communications work in high school where she picked up photography and was an editor of the school newspaper. Originally planning a career in physical therapy or sports medicine, her early experience with photography and editing carried through to college where she was photo editor of the college newspaper. After college, Fest moved to London to pursue a master’s degree in Public Relations and Public Communication.
Following her work in marketing for a technology company based in Europe, she was able to meld these interests even further when she joined UPMC in 2012 working on communications for many technology and health IT projects at the health system.
She started out working on communications for some of UPMC’s early spin-out companies, such as Prodigo Solutions, and on IT-based projects such as ClinicalConnectHIE. She also did work for UPMC’s international division during that time. From there, she became the operations director for the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM), a health IT center within UPMC that is jointly operated with Nokia and GE Healthcare. In early 2019, Fest was promoted to lead marketing and communications for UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization and innovation division of UPMC.
“While I’ve changed roles during the last seven years, I stayed closely connected to my first role and it’s still a core aspect of what my team and I do each day,” Fest said.
We talked to Fest to find out more about her work at Enterprises with startup companies and spreading UPMC’s innovation message.
What do you most enjoy about working in the health IT space?
I have always placed a lot of value on personal relationships. So, for me, that’s what it always comes back to. I have met so many amazing (and smart) people during my time in this market. That not only includes people at UPMC, but also other health systems and partners from around the US and world. The fact that I get to work alongside these people each day is very humbling.
What is the biggest challenge you face working with startup companies?
For anyone in health IT, think of the trade show floor at an event like HIMSS. It’s a real challenge to differentiate yourself because the market can be a noisy place. Leading a marketing team that works with startups, I see that as one of our biggest challenges. Not only do we have to understand what these companies are trying to do, but then we have to distill those essential traits into a brand platform that will help them stand apart.
UPMC is widely known as a high-quality medical center, but what are you doing to forge an identity and message for UPMC Enterprises?
I’ll say three things about our brand. First, UPMC is well known, especially in our home market of Pennsylvania, which makes our job easier in some ways. So when we participate in local events, we use our UPMC Enterprises branding to differentiate the Enterprises division from the larger system. Second, when we participate in national events, we go as UPMC and tell the story of a health system with nearly 40 years of bringing innovation to health care. While Enterprises is the commercialization and innovation division of UPMC, we have the responsibility of telling the full story of innovation at UPMC. Innovation happens everywhere at UPMC and it’s everyone’s job. I’ll add a third point – talent acquisition and culture. I think every part of a large company has a unique feel and culture to it — and UPMC Enterprises is no different. We are competing with companies like Google, Facebook, and Uber when it comes to attracting the best talent from a technical standpoint. Coming back to our brand as a division, our marketing team works closely with Human Resources and Talent Acquisition on making UPMC, and Enterprises an appealing place work.
You’re also the Executive Director of the Center for Connected Medicine. What is that organization and how does it fit within UPMC and UPMC Enterprises?
While some of the focus of the CCM has changed in the last 10 years, our goal is to provide useful and impactful research and resources that facilitate connections with people working across health care IT. Organizationally the CCM is part of UPMC Enterprises marketing and we work with some of UPMC’s corporate partners, such as GE Healthcare and Nokia, and other leaders in the field to develop the CCM’s research, webinars, content, and exclusive events.
These activities serve as a platform for our partners and the hundreds of other organizations we engage with to discuss and connect on relevant health IT topics. As an example, now in its third year, the Top of Mind Research + Summit has become the marquee project for the team. It combines all the strengths of the CCM, from an interesting and engaging research report followed by an exclusive, in-person event.
On a personal note, before moving into my current role earlier this year, I spent the last three years as the Operations Director at the CCM. To date, it has been one of my biggest career challenges but also the most rewarding.
Who has inspired you in your life and why?
I come from a family of honest, hard-working people. Specifically, if I look at my parents, now retired, both had long-running careers in banking. And now that I’m a parent, I understand the sacrifice and the daily grind they put in each day to provide for my sister and me. That has always pushed me in my work — especially now when I see them enjoying retirement! Last I checked, I still have a few more years to go (give or take).
If you were stranded on a desert island, what is one item you would want and why?
That’s a tough call, but it’s between two. If I knew she’d be safe, I’d bring my funny 5-year-old daughter for entertainment purposes. She’s always up for a good adventure. Coming in a close second would be Chapstick brand (very important) strawberry chapstick. You will rarely find me anywhere in the world without one of these.
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