This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Thank you Ms. Gifford for taking time to chat. Could you please begin by introducing yourself?
Of course! My name is Kelli Gifford. I am a lecturer at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and I have been teaching Writing for Print and Digital Media for the past decade. I graduated from college in 1999, and I’m currently getting my master’s degree in healthcare administration from Colorado State University.
That is so interesting to me. So, please tell us a little bit about your career path.
Soon after graduating from college, I was hired at The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper to be a co py editor and page designer for five years, before I was recruited to the Houston Chronicle to work on their news copy desk. I was at the Houston Chronicle for four and a half years. After I met my husband, I began working at the University of Houston in the marketing department, as a writer and editor.
How would you describe the transition from being a copy editor to a writer?
It was an interesting transition because I had a small amount of experience with writing and editing, which is a lot of re-writing, and therefore I was always given the information first. In the beginning, I was scared and nervous that I wouldn’t be a good writer. I had experience writing for my high school and college newspapers, but I hadn’t done any professional writing. I was given story ideas, and I had to write them from scratch. Then, I was notified that the development department needed a full-time development writer. I was in both positions for a couple of years. My boss in the development department and I left for St. Luke’s Hospital’s development department and that is when I was introduced to healthcare.
Fascinating. When did you decide that you were interested in healthcare development?
While I worked in the development department for both institutes, I learned that development was not my interest. It was mostly writing proposals and thank-you notes. I worked at St. Luke’s for three years until I joined Houston Methodist to do nursing communications.
Wow, I’m thoroughly impressed. How many years did you work for Houston Methodist?
Well, I left my job at Houston Methodist last August and the following week I had an interview with MD Anderson. I have been working with MD Anderson for a year and I work in Human resources and Internal communications. I’m so happy my career path brought me to my passion for healthcare, and I love working in this company.
As we all know, a global pandemic has impacted our community heavily and the healthcare industry is working hard to provide support and resources worldwide. Can you talk about how you are helping MD Anderson navigate the pandemic?
Absolutely. COVID-19 has impacted every employee’s role at MD Anderson. I work on the Internal Communications team covering Human Resources, so my role has really escalated. My whole team is now working remotely and holding daily conference calls to handle assignments and go over what’s new and what is planned. The HR team is having to do a lot of reassignments and help those who can’t work remotely to find roles to fill.
How has your background in Journalism helped you excel in the healthcare industry?
Personally, I believe that it is very crucial to have communication skills in any field, and I took what I had learned in journalism and translated it to tell amazing stories about people doing amazing things. For example, my most memorable story was about patient satisfaction. I love the business and personal side of working in healthcare.
I would like to thank you and your team at MD Anderson for their resilience and dedication. Going back to teaching, what has been your experience as a lecturer at Valenti?
Let me first tell you how I got this job. When I was working at the Houston Chronicle, a friend of mine was teaching this class at the time. Then, my friend planned to move to Washington with her husband, so she recommended me to Julie Fix. I was nervous, but I had Charles Crixell guide me through this position since we both worked together at the Houston Chronicle. I learned something new every semester, and it was exciting to see all my students grow, which increased my love for teaching. I felt that if I could make a difference for anybody, it meant the world to me.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I’ve learned so much through amazing mentors who’ve helped me get here. I don’t know what’s next, but I have my goals, and I’m working towards them every day. Working in human resources gave me the opportunity to tell stories of hard-working individuals who are behind the scenes. It is the best part of my job. I also have loved teaching and reading the positive student evaluations made me feel very grateful as a teacher.
You have worked many years as a professional writer and you have mentioned that you enjoy telling stories of those who are working behind the scenes. How have your communication and writing skills helped you spread information in recent weeks?
The best news I’ve been writing lately has to do with the resources we’re putting together for our employees, whether it’s helping with finances for childcare, picking up groceries, or opening up the locker rooms so they can shower and change before going home. I also have been writing about our Employee Assistance Program, which includes licensed therapists who are there to help employees who need someone to talk to and work through anxiety. I also work closely with our wellness team to share stories on how our employees can take care of themselves during this time.
What advice would you give to Valenti students?
I would encourage everyone to follow their passion and do what makes you happy. I love going to work every day, and it is the best feeling. I do also have to make sacrifices, such as leaving my kids at home, but I love what I do and at the end of the day, that is what matters. Ask yourself: Where do you want your first job to be? Where do you want to get experience? Learn from every stepping stone and don’t stress about the journey. Most importantly, get involved and build a network.
Lastly, is there a message you would like to share with our community?
I would like to say thank you for supporting our front-line healthcare workers. They are working hard and putting their health at risk every day. Please stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands.