Two-and-a-half years back, when Kathryn E. Bowser, MD, joined her current institution as a vascular surgeon, a confluence of unfolding events led her to a realization: “A lot of people did not understand what the modern vascular surgeon actually did.”
Bowser, a hospital-employed surgeon at ChristianaCare system in Newark, Delaware, was outlining the backdrop to her use of the SVS Branding Toolkit during the latest edition of the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Town Hall series focused on the subject.
“We’re a large hospital system and we’re academic-affiliated,” she told the Town Hall panel. “I’d done my general surgery training there as well but I had to be reintroduced as a vascular specialist in a hospital where there were seven other vascular surgeons at the time, six of them having been there over 16 years and much longer. Around the same time, there was a shift towards more of the physicians—the cardiologists, the primary care doctors—also becoming hospital-employed. We were also in this heart and vascular service line—all this was happening at the same time.
“Even though academically we were under the department of surgery, otherwise we were alongside cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery—but we never quite fit well in either realm. That became even more evident as I was pushing to market myself.”
Those individuals who did not seem to understand what it is vascular surgeons do included not only members of the marketing department, but patients, leadership, referring doctors and even other surgeons, explained Bowser. “It became pretty important to me to [market myself] and it just happened to coincide with the SVS branding efforts.”
As internal marketing efforts confused her with the likes of cardiology, interventional radiology and, in one instance, “women’s heart health,” she found herself steering the conversation back to what it is vascular surgeons actually offer.
The SVS Branding Toolkit—whose features include branding videos and condition-specific fliers—has helped feed Bowser’s own branding work on a bespoke website and her social media output. She put to use a full-length version of a branding video on her website as well as shorter, snippet-sized videos for her social media channels. Bowser also extracted available branding copy, lightly repurposing elements for her specific needs. She aims to broaden her use of the toolkit, with plans to utilize the printable materials with patients and referring physicians, and elements such as the branded member logo for emails with referral sources.
“What I really like about this is it’s so simple, and it works on what I think of as the grassroots level,” Bowser explained. “It can be just as simple as informing the people you know, the people in your immediate community, about what we do. It’s not just about self-promotion; it’s about elevating our specialty. So, the more of us who do it in our own communities, the more effective it could be.”
Judith Lin, MD, professor and chief of vascular surgery at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, provided a view from academic practice. Starting a new practice eight months ago in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she confronted the twin challenges of virtual visits and the fact there are few vascular surgeons in Lansing, the Michigan state capital. “It seemed like the vascular surgery desert because I am the only board-certified vascular surgeon in Lansing, currently,” Lin revealed.
Which begged the question: Who is dealing with vascular disease in the area? Lin gave a flavor: “We’ve got the interventional cardiologists, who do a lot of peripheral interventions, either in the OBL [office-based labs] or in the hospital; we have interventional radiologists who also do a lot of peripheral [interventions]; so that’s what most people are thinking—that radiology, cardiology do the vascular [work]. Then there’s cardiovascular surgeon, who do a lot of the bypasses, the endarterectomies, in addition to open heart surgery.”
The Branding Toolkit helped Lin carve out messaging to explain the comprehensive nature of her vascular care, using elements such as the flyers for clinical practice guidelines covering chronic limb-threatening ischemia, abdominal aortic aneurysms and diabetic foot ulcers—and personalizing them. “I think we can enhance a lot of this with social media coverage,” she told the Town Hall.
Meanwhile, William P. Shutze, MD, a partner in Texas Vascular Associates based in Plano, Texas, labelled himself a branding novice by comparison, but an early adopter of the toolkit.
He emphasized the need to create a national footprint for vascular surgery. “We really need to get everybody pitching in, trying to brand themselves locally, so we can get a national brand out of this,” he said. He described how his team has put Branding Toolkit elements to work across both clinic and hospital settings. He uses banners featuring the branding slogan, “Surgery is only part of our story”; links to clinical practice guidelines; and email templates.
Shutze also suggested an ultimate goal: that “vascular surgery” and “vascular surgeon” become ubiquitous enough terms that the names themselves become genericized trademarks like brands from everyday life such as Kleenex and Coca Cola, and Luer-Lok and Port-a-Cath from the medical world. “I think we can get there if we all use these tools, use the newer ones as they come out, and keep flooding our consumers—our referring physicians and our patients—with these materials.”