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10 things I’m proud of about House Organ

Posted by on Monday, June 25, 2012 in Editor's Column, June/July 2012.

This issue is about the future, but, as we’re working to put this issue to bed, the past is on my mind a little, too. House Organ is ceasing publication.

This doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere—I will still be in the office of News and Communications at VUMC, where part of my job is keeping an eye on internal communications.

Even though I hope the spirit of House Organ will go on, this is the final issue as a standalone magazine, and it seems like a good time to thank all the writers, photographers and designers who have contributed their talents to House Organ. And if we were all gathered for a last wave from the stage like at the end of “Saturday Night Live,” I know I speak for all of them when I also thank the readers who have picked up House Organ, found it online on using the iPad app, and who have never hesitated to send me ideas, complaints and, on occasion, compliments.  Here are 10 things I’m proud of about House Organ:

  • The Pets of Vanderbilt issue. This began as an offshoot of our annual House Organ Photography Contest, and it has grown to be the most popular issue of the year. People from all over campus enter their dogs and cats, campaign for favorites in the online voting, and sometimes get so enthusiastic that University computing capacity is threatened. Good fun!
  • The House Organ Calendar. This began in 1983 and has always featured photography by Vanderbilt staff and faculty. It’s always been neat to walk around the campus and see the work of our fellow employees on so many walls. Those calendars are everywhere.
  • The House Organ Writing Contest. This contest began in the mid-1980s, and since then has published an amazing array of great writing by people whose day jobs find them doing something else. This place has tons of writers walking around disguised as regular people. To see a list of the hundreds of winners of the Photography and Writing contests, go here: 2012/01/winners/
  • The features. Telling stories of the Medical Center and its people is the backbone of House Organ: Story after story, creating over time a mosaic of who we’ve been and who we are. Orvan Thompson, who at age 90, was VUMC’s oldest working nurse; Kaitlyn Lasitter, the young woman who was injured in a terrible amusement park accident, and whose story of pushing on with her life continues to be read thousands of times a year online; Frank “Chip” McCallister, a great baseball player who never had a chance to make it to the majors because of his race, but who regaled me one afternoon with stories of playing alongside Hall-of-Famers Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. The story of nursing school faculty member Tom Cook and his son Alex.
  • The special reports: Whole issues devoted to subjects such as the treatment of gun shot wounds, the impact of drinking and driving, babies born addicted to cocaine, and how the subject and reality of death are handled by people at VUMC. For one of these, John Howser and I got to spend all night in the operating room with William Frist, M.D., and Walter Merrill, M.D., witnessing a heart transplant. For another, to report on how the Nashville flood of 2010 impacted the Medical Center, practically our whole staff pitched in for a special issue, Flood, Sweat and Tears. These were among the meatiest and, in some cases, most controversial issues—important subjects, treated with depth and perspective.
  • The April Fools issues. Big news: a man lost in Medical Center North since 1934 has turned up; VUMC has launched a line of commemorative plates featuring hospital administrators; TVC has opened the region’s first thong pain center. It takes a confident organization to laugh at itself. These issues gave us a chance to do so.
  • The health and fitness/human body issues. We work at an institution devoted to health and caring for people and their bodies, and these issues provided our own experts giving advice on living better, illustrated with beautiful photography of all shapes, sizes and ages of human bodies. I always enjoyed these issues, and so did readers. So, for that matter, did judges in national contests. For a list of the awards House Organ earned, go here: 2012/01/thirty-years-of-honors/
  • The 20th anniversary party. To observe the magazine’s 20th anniversary in December 2001, we had a party under a tent by Light Hall. So many well-wishers poured through that we ran out of food and drink and had to have more brought in. Now that’s a successful party.
  • The House Organ iPad app. This was the first iPad app for any publication at Vanderbilt when it was launched earlier this year.
  • Readers who care. I love hearing from people who pick up the magazine or find it electronically, and contact me with ideas for stories. I also like hearing from those who want to argue about something, or to ask that I send extra copies so they can pass them on to job candidates or patient families. I even like the ones who think I’m an idiot, because, as a wise person once said, “People have to be reading it—and care about it—to complain about it.”


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