CAREERS: My Big Break

Disease outbreaks created my big break! My career turning point

came when there was a meningitis outbreak in my community that commanded

national attention. I was a community relations coordinator at the local

hospital and handled media relations. When the outbreak occurred, we

went into crisis communications mode. An event that could have ripped

the town apart was later described as a situation that brought people


After six months, 30,000 people in our community of 52,000 were

immunized, we responded to 15,000 calls on our crisis hotline, seven

people were hospitalized for meningitis, and one person died. Several

months later, there was another outbreak. Again, the hospital was looked

to as the focal point for communications. Eventually, it was uncovered

that a problem with the cooling towers of our hospital was actually the

cause of the outbreak. As a result of these events, new national

standards were devised for cooling towers. Because of my exposure to

these circumstances, I was recruited for my current position, which has

turned into a dream job.

Karen Wright is the media relations director and interim director of

marketing & communications at the University of Minnesota.

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