March 10, 2011

Hance, Longtime Director of Medical Center News and Communications, to Retire

Bill Hance, J.D., who has led Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Office of News and Communications for the past 25 years, is retiring at the end of the year.

The former Nashville newspaperman came to Vanderbilt in 1986 from the Nashville Banner to lead what was then a small news operation focused primarily on internal communications. In the years since, Hance grew the operation to encompass a broad range of award-winning publications as well as a system for working with local, national and international news media that is positioned at the forefront of academic medicine communications efforts.

Hance, who is the assistant vice chancellor for Medical Center News and Communications, is known for his sharp news judgment, extensively cultivated list of contacts, keen wit and affinity for eccentric knickknacks, classic guitars and all things Elvis Presley. In fact, as a reporter for the Banner he covered the King of Rock and Roll’s death that sweltering August in 1977. Hance was among a small group, and perhaps the only journalist, allowed to view Presley’s body in his casket inside Graceland. “I can assure you he is deceased,” he said.

John Howser, a 23-year department veteran and current director of News and Communications, will be promoted to assistant vice chancellor for Medical Center News and Communications, effective Jan. 1, 2012.

“I just turned 68, and it is more than time to change this department’s leadership,” Hance said. “When I came here, this was a relatively small operation and there was no way to foresee the significant changes that would occur in the field of communications in the coming years. It’s astounding to me this office now produces a dozen quality, award-winning print and electronic publications and our major news placements have literally gone through the roof. It’s all staff-related. And this is one of the best in the country.”

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said Hance’s contributions to furthering VUMC’s mission have been considerable.

“A day does not go by without our Medical Center being featured prominently in national and international newspapers, magazines, journals and on broadcast networks. Through three administrations, Bill and the talented team he has assembled have worked tirelessly to enhance the Medical Center’s visibility, stature and reputation, with impressive results,” Balser said.

Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for Public Affairs, said Hance has been a strong mentor to many colleagues throughout his career.

“Bill and I have had a long association, and I have looked to him over the years for counsel and guidance,” Fortune said. “He has done Vanderbilt a great service in his purposeful effort to groom John Howser as his successor. John is ready to assume this important leadership role, and I congratulate him on this accomplishment.”

Howser, who joined Vanderbilt in 1987, looks forward to leading the department.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve Vanderbilt. Bill is not only a close friend, but has been an outstanding mentor who has had an enormous impact on my career. It is an honor that Bill, Beth and Dr. Balser have shown the trust in me to succeed Bill in this role,” Howser said.

Hance joined VUMC in June 1986, having spent 17 years at the Nashville Banner, the city's afternoon newspaper. For 11 of those years he covered entertainment, specifically country music, and for the last four years served as city editor.

He has a B.A. degree from Western Kentucky University, a J.D. degree from the Nashville School of Law and is currently chair of the Metropolitan Health Board.

Over the years, Howser assumed increasing responsibility as VUMC's media relations director, assistant director and deputy director before being promoted to director of Medical Center News and Communications in 2009.

Howser received a B.A. in photojournalism from Western Kentucky University and is a former newspaper photographer.

The mission of the 24-person News and Communications office — in conjunction with communications colleagues across the University — is, quite simply, to tell Vanderbilt's story.

This is accomplished primarily through two channels: media relations, which focuses on working with TV, print, broadcast and Web reporters on stories about Vanderbilt and stories featuring Vanderbilt personnel; and award-winning publications, which are geared toward various audiences both inside and outside of Vanderbilt.

In addition to the VUMC Reporter, which publishes 48 times per year, News and Communications produces a broad family of 11 separate publications targeting different audiences.

The publications team also writes and produces several e-mail newsletters, including VMG Mail and the elevate e-newsletter, and administers Web sites for each of the publications.

In media relations, the growth in the number of times VUMC is featured or referenced in a local, national or international media story — dubbed a placement — has been substantial in recent years.

The Medical Center's overall positive media placements, a measure of the institution's visibility in the news media, have increased over 300 percent since tracking began in 2002.