HEAL: Networking For Your Health In Tampa Bay

As topics like health care reform, breast cancer screening and gluten-free diets emerge in daily conversations among Gen Y'ers almost as often as among their elders, a growing public health discussion has given birth to a new networking group focused on healthy living in Tampa Bay.

In February 2011, the then-University Community Hospital Foundation (now known as the Foundation at Florida Hospital Tampa) launched the group called HEAL, as in Health Education And Leadership for Young Professionals, a networking outlet to meet and gather relevant health-focused information through quarterly events.

The result? Young professionals who previously may have been more focused on alternative energy, emerging technologies and green living, can more easily learn firsthand why their own health should be as much a priority as the planet's.

A New Way to Educate

Joanne Sullivan, executive director of the Foundation at Florida Hospital Tampa, first proposed the group, while identifying  initiatives to support the Foundation and the community it serves. She says the success of other young professional leadership programs in the Tampa Bay region, including the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Emerge Tampa Bay, served as positive points of reference and demonstrated what HEAL could achieve.

"For those in early or mid stages of their career, there's a lot of interest in being a part of the community, but these young professionals want to be involved in a way very different than their parents. They are interested in the scope of the work that we do and very strategic in how they express their interests," Sullivan says. "They're very discerning about how they spend their time, so when doing something outside the workforce, they want to make sure it will be of value to them."

Let The HEALing Begin

Membership in HEAL is easy and simply involves joining the group’s e-newsletter mailing list which currently reaches about 140 subscribers. The group also has a Facebook page to communicate about future HEAL events and is managed by Rachel Luis, foundation coordinator for a little over a year, helps coordinate and promote the networking group's events.

So far, events have included: a kickoff meet-up at a local wine bar to introduce the group; a sports awareness presentation by USF's S.M.A.R.T. (Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma) Institute in conjunction with a Tampa Bay Rays game and tour of Tropicana Field; a Breast Cancer Awareness Panel; a special breakfast and heart procedure viewing; and a series of Lunch and Learn events at the hospital highlighting such topics as cardiac health, women’s health issues and breast health.

While there are no annual dues for members or steering committee members, participants pay small fees at the individual events they attend. HEAL members also are eligible for discounts on Foundation fundraisers and events, such as the Foundation's recent event "The Doctor Is In," which featured Dr. Travis Stork of the syndicated program "The Doctors."

"I think many people are so involved with their families and networking for their jobs, that they don't take the time to become educated on health issues," Luis says. "I know I didn't really start until I began working here. Now being in this environment and attending different events, I've learned so much more."

The Appeal Of HEAL

A distinctive characteristic of HEAL's networking and education programs is that the driving force guiding its focus is not hospital administrators, but a member-comprised advisory committee made up of seven HEAL members across diverse professional backgrounds. This committee includes Laura Fontanills, an account director at Common Language, a boutique strategic communications and public relations firm in St. Petersburg.

"I think it is important for other young professionals to understand that you don't have to work in the healthcare field to care about your health," Fontanills says. "HEAL offers the opportunities for people to educate themselves so they can take control of their healthcare and live a more healthy life."

Fellow committee member Jessica Hubbell, who also serves as patient business services coordinator at Florida Hospital Tampa, says she was attracted to the interactive nature of the new group.

"Networking is always a great thing! It's important to get involved in your community and meet people from all different industries," Hubbell says. "When asked to be a part of the advisory committee, I couldn't turn it down. I wanted to be a part of it from the very beginning and help it to grow as an organization in the community."

A New Year Of HEAL

Luis says HEAL will continue offering quarterly opportunities to young Tampa Bay area professionals to network and gain knowledge about their health, including its Lunch and Learn series every other month to cover such topics as healthcare reform, diabetes and the hospital's endocrinology program. Luis also says she hopes to see the advisory committee double in size following its first year, a sentiment her manager echoes.

"We believe that what is going to draw young professionals to HEAL, in addition to the fact that that we have a fine medical facility, is the same thing that draws all of us back to organizations that we're part of -- the relationships that we build," Sullivan says. "If there is a group of smart, young, attractive, engaged, dynamic people that is part of it, then it tends to have a magnetic effect on other people who are like that. Success begets success."

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer living in the 'burbs of Tampa with her husband and her assistant, a 13-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Chris Kuhn.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who resides in the northern ‘burbs of Tampa with her husband and a rambunctious Shih Tzu. She is a frequent contributor to area print and online publications and previously served as editor for a local women’s publication. A graduate of Florida State University, Chris has been published nationally and written two books, her most recent, an anthology celebrating public art as a central focal point for storytelling across various Florida communities, including Tampa. When she is not writing, Chris loves checking out art, movies and museums, and discovering new Thai restaurants.