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Earlier this year, UC Davis Health Social Media Strategist Lauren Suedkamp began work on a passion project to spotlight nurses at the hospital: a podcast called the Year of The Nurse.

“We started sitting down for interviews with nurses in February, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “This got pushed to the backburner for a bit, and then as everything started to shut down, our Chief Nursing Officer reached out and said he wanted to continue doing this because it would be a positive project for the nurses to participate in.”

The project picked back up again in April and was launched on Nurses’ Week in early May.

The concept for the podcast came about when The World Health Organization named 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse” in honor of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday.

“I felt like this was an appropriate time to launch a big project like this,” said Lauren. “Years of the nurse don’t come around every day, and we felt like it was a moment to capture a cross-section of nurses throughout our hospital. And when the pandemic hit, we were able to capture how people were thinking and feeling on the frontlines.”

The team considered doing a video component to supplement the audio interviews, but ultimately they landed on a podcast format with photos that would live in a blog on the UC Davis Health website.

The first key goal of the podcast was to give nurses a voice.

Lauren said nurses’ stories are often told by the people they impact — not the nurses themselves — and she wanted to give nurses the opportunity to talk about their experiences.

“People don’t often get the chance to tell their stories and to share about themselves in a truly genuine way,” Lauren said. “Nurses see everything that happens in the hospital, and it’s such a universal human experience.”

From a social media perspective, Lauren intended for the podcasts to anchor UC Davis Health’s content calendar and diversify their strategy.

“As we were thinking about this project in January, before COVID-19, we figured that if we did one interview a week from March until the end of the year, we would have about 48 stories to share,” said Lauren. “That would be so much good, rich content for us to anchor our social content through the rest of 2020.”

She said they had never tried audio content before and thought a podcast would be an interesting way to introduce that into their social media strategy.

“We didn’t know if people would listen,” said Lauren. “We didn’t know if people would check out the blog where the podcasts would live. We just figured if people were willing to participate, we were willing to try.”

Lauren partnered with nurse leadership to decide who to spotlight in each podcast.

“Originally before the pandemic hit, we were just going to do some drop-in sessions where our team was in a certain place, and if you wanted to participate, you could come meet with us,” she said.

They were only able to do one day of drop-in sessions before the hospital was shut down.

“I worked with one of the nurses who was a manager in the ICU,” Lauren said. “She identified some people she knew of through projects she was a part of, and then a few of those people recommended other people. Once a few people participated, they enjoyed the process so much that they connected me with other people.”

She said it’s been important to represent a wide variety of areas across the organization.

“We’re a little hospital heavy, but I do have interviews with nurses who work in the clinics as well as home health care nurses,” said Lauren. “Our health system has clinics, we’re not just a medical center. So, we want to represent that aspect of our organization.”

Once she lands on a nurse to feature, she sets up a time for a quick interview.

She’s done half of her interviews with the help of a nurse manager, Theresa. “I show up with my mic and audio box, and then I have four questions I always ask,” she said. “I ask them about what made them want to become a nurse, what brought them to UC Davis, what specific patient experiences have impacted how they nurse, and what they hope their legacy is.”

Then, she typically asks follow up questions and takes a photo to include on the website where the podcasts live.

“They’re all headshot-style photos, but we try to make sure the photo shows what they’re wearing that day,” said Lauren. “I want to do my best to capture them looking how they would every day.”

After the interviews are recorded, Lauren edits the audio, then the clips go up on the Year of the Nurse blog — which she shares on social.

They share the podcasts across UC Davis’s Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes their LinkedIn channel as well, she said.

“Those posts direct followers to our blog where the audio clips live,” she said. “We didn’t think people would click on an audio clip if we put it directly in a Facebook post. Our hope was that if they found someone’s post particularly inspiring that they would come to the page, see all the other stories, and listen to them.”

Since they’ve had so much interest from nurses to feature, they’ve been able to share two interviews a week.

“They’re our anchor posts for our content calendar,” said Lauren. “Our web person puts the clips online, and then I go back once it goes live, I write all the social media copy, and share it out on our channels. It takes a lot of work.”

The posts have been seeing some great engagement so far, Lauren said.

“A lot of it is from our own staff and faculty, as well as patients,” she said. “We wanted these posts to be a bit of feel-good content in a sea of informational content. They’ve definitely done that for us. ”

They’re performing well in terms of organic reach, but they aren’t their most engaged-with posts. Which, Lauren explained, is mostly due to the high numbers on their COVID-19 posts.

“These posts are doing well,” she said. “Because of that, we’ve even been able to get on our local public radio and one or two other opportunities to talk about the project.”

Lauren said she learned how important it is to have partners throughout a project like this.

“We announced the project internally, and we hoped to have nurses wanting to participate,” she said. “After one day of doing an open call for interviews, we only had two people who wanted to participate. We hoped once people started getting involved, that would hopefully encourage others to participate, but that we needed to find partners to help us.”

One of those partners was a nurse manager, Teresa, who helped connect Lauren with nurses to interview. “Because of her help, I’ve been able to do about 70 of these interviews.”

She said it was a challenge to be working from home and figuring out how to make in-person interviews happen safely.

“I’ve needed to find time and the nurses’ schedules and my schedule to go to the medical center, go through all of our health screening processes, meet with people, make sure they’re comfortable, and meet in a room where we’re sitting six feet away from each other,” she said.

Moving forward, Lauren hopes to turn this project into a full-blown podcast to share on a streaming platform.

“We’re aiming to continue putting this content out throughout the rest of 2020,” she said. “Then, we’d like to get episodes on Spotify or something similar. This is new territory for us as a social media department.”

Lauren said they don’t plan to continue scheduling interviews for the rest of the year, but if someone is interested in participating, she wouldn’t turn down the opportunity.

“The goal is to do this again sometime in the next few years by following up with some of the same people or finding a whole new batch to interview and just build on this as an archive project,” she said.

For other social media leaders looking to launch a similar project, Lauren said you shouldn’t be afraid to test new ideas.

“You have to hone in on what kind of storytelling you want to do,” she said. “And if you’re not sure what that is, then test it.”

She added it was important for her team to try video and audio and then compare them, because they learned what would work and what wouldn’t.

“Oftentimes when you try a new thing, you end up being more successful than you think, but you never know until you try,” said Lauren. “Don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ll still learn something from it.”