Employee of the Month — Beth Duff-Brown

August 2017, Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research (CHP/PCOR)

Beth Duff-Brown has had her share of exciting work. Before coming to Stanford, she was a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, working for the Associated Press as a foreign correspondent in Africa and Asia for, as she puts it, “some 20 years.” But in her current position as communications manager for Stanford Health Policy she puts those extraordinary skills to use.

Duff-Brown, who’s been with the department for two years, loves that “every day is different.” In addition to writing stories about the research among faculty, fellows, and researchers, she “runs social media and blogging channels, produces photos and video and keeps our website fresh.” She came to Stanford originally on a Knight Journalism Fellowship in 2010-2011 and “made it her mission” to stay here so her daughter, born in Malaysia during her time as a foreign correspondent, could have a “California high school experience.” Duff-Brown worked for the Center for International Security and Cooperation for three years as their editorial manager before coming to the Department of Medicine. She’s described as “pivotal” and “integral” by Arnold Shir, and other coworkers’ compliments come fast and thick—among other things, she’s lauded as “amazing,” “talented,””welcoming,” and “approachable.”

From the ground up

Duff-Brown is credited specifically by her colleagues for her work with the Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research (CHP/PCOR). When she began work, Nicole Feldman explains, “we didn't really have communications. She built our online presence from the ground up, redesigning our website, reinvigorating our Twitter page (she took us from 1,200 followers to over 3,700 in just two years!), producing a great video about our complicated center, and making our mark on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo.” Adreana Pinuelas agrees: “She has gone above and beyond when it comes to marketing our department on social media and launching our new webpages.” Doug Owens, MD and Director of PCOR, says Duff-Brown “revolutionized our media outreach, communications, and website.”

She’s also on top of everything, Shir explains. “Whenever there is an event we are hosting, Beth is always on top of covering it on the various social media channels we use.  If I see an article that may be of value for posting, I try to send it to her; the majority of the time, she has already seen and posted it!” Chika Agemba calls her “prolific.”

Constructing a narrative

Nancy Lonhart, MA, takes this praise one step further: “During our strategic review, we learned from external thought leaders that while they knew about our individual faculty, they didn't understand who/what Primary Care and Outcomes Research really was. The name does not lend itself to easy definition, so we needed to elevate our profile. But how? This is where Beth comes in. She put her amazing talents quickly to work. She met with each faculty member and began writing stories that captured not only the rigor of the science, but the story behind the author. She molded our brand of health policy into an anthology of empirical research and faculty commitment that stretches across the globe.”

Owens simply adds, “She’s written so many superb stories about our research here that it’s hard to know where to begin.” Other colleagues cite a trip she took to India recently with faculty and students who were investigating health care access, quality, and how pharmaceutical networks affect medical practices there.

Feldman agrees that Duff-Brown’s influence reaches beyond the department: “Her work even garnered the most elusive of prizes: donor attention,” Feldman explains. “Because of Beth's contributions, we received an inquiry from a donor who was interested in our work -- not in any specific project, just our work in general (this does not happen!) -- and one of our faculty's projects was funded because of a story package Beth produced. This is every communications manager's goal, but few actually achieve it, especially in the world of medicine.”

As Lonhart explains, “Beth has done so many things for our division, but the most amazing part of all is HOW she’s done them.”

A joy to work with

Duff-Brown is, by all accounts, a joy to work with: humble and unassuming in spite of her impressive pedigree. She helps the admin team clean up after events and is “never one to take the limelight” according to Lonhart.  She also makes people feel welcome. “My office is upstairs and I tend to only get visitors if someone needs something from me,” Soka Keo says. “Beth will go upstairs just to say hi to me and ask how I am doing which is so sweet and caring of her.  As busy as Beth is, she's the type of person that will always stop what she's doing to help you or help answer any questions.”

Kathryn McDonald, PhD, adds that Duff-Brown’s work with stories has impacted not just how PCOR is viewed by the outside world, but also how it sees itself. Because of her stories, “…Our employees know more about the work that their colleagues are doing. We end up with a group that feels connected to a higher purpose and each other. The value of Beth's contributions and her way of working go hand in hand. She could easily just focus on faculty, but she makes sure that administrative and research staff are included in her interest in stories, and she makes sure that the way she reports the work is accessible and interesting for all of our audiences, including everyone in the division and department (and school too).”

Duff-Brown is passionate about her work and her colleagues as well: “What fun to tell the stories about the research being done by our faculty and researchers, who are devoted to improving health care here at home and around the world!” she says. “They are so dedicated to health policy — and to making the world a better place. That may sound cliché, but it’s truly what they are doing, and to be able to shine a light on that work is such an honor.”

And she seems just as prolific in her down time as she is at the office. The self-described “pretty boring” person loves “movies, politics, my book clubs, writing group, hiking with friends and spending time with family,” among other things, but her passion project is “a memoir and documentary about my three-decade relationship with my Peace Corps village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was fortunate to be able to go back several times as a journalist to write about how this village had such an impact on who I am today. I made a promise to them during my last trip 10 years ago that I would bring my daughter back when she turned 18. Caitlin and our filmmakers have been planning the trip for nearly two years — through generous donations from a Kickstarter project — but it has been too dangerous to travel there. When we do, that will be the final chapter.”