Partner & Healthcare Lead
DVL Seigenthaler, A Finn Partners Company
Cottrill credits her keen interest in science and health to her mother and her long career in healthcare communications to her friend.
A graduate of Case Western Reserve University with degrees in sociology and history, she says the healthcare part of the equation came naturally. "My mom started nursing school when I started kindergarten," she recalled. "Some of my earliest memories are quizzing her on weird symptoms and helping her to practice giving shots to oranges."
Accepting a position with Case Western's School of Medicine after graduation seemed like a natural fit. "It's the communications part of where I ended up that is probably more surprising," Cottrill noted with a laugh. "That said, I wouldn't change where I am. Getting to tell the stories of pioneering doctors, nurses, scientists and executives ... and being a part of educating the public on everything from heart disease and cancer predisposition to the mortality gap in mental healthcare ... is a true privilege."
A move to Boston led to a temporary job at the public relations firm Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications where she started out answering the CEO's phones. "They kept finding things for me to do and moving me around," she noted. "I started in July. In December, they said, 'You should just stay.'"
So, she did. Five years later, Cottrill was vice president of the Healthcare and Science Practice Group.
It was while at Rasky Baerlein that Cottrill met Amy Seigenthaler. "She was the one who pushed me into client work," Cottrill noted. "She always thought I could do it - even when I wasn't sure what 'it' was."
Seigenthaler ultimately returned to her hometown of Nashville to join her sisters in running the family public relations firm. When Cottrill's husband, Dan Burke, decided to attend Middle Tennessee State University and the couple pondered a move to the Volunteer State, Cottrill reached out to her friend and colleague.
Cottrill's health and science experience put her in a great position to work with the firm's many healthcare clients. One of the best aspects of her work, she said, is working with clients passionate about making a difference.
"It sounds incredibly cliché, but there are some amazing people doing amazing things in healthcare," noted Cottrill. "It's the unexpected people - that CFO who became a quality champion, that researcher who doggedly chased dead ends and found something groundbreaking, that nurse who changed care delivery for the better - who are my favorites."
She's also passionate about moving the needle to improve care. "We combine communications and healthcare acumen to educate the public about critical issues, like the importance of vaccination or global disparities in childhood cancer survival rates or rallying a team around an initiative that can improve care," she explained.
While she loves her work, Cottrill said the fast pace and evolving nature of the field can make communications challenging. She also recognizes that even though she and her team are a step removed from providing care, the messaging and strategy they deploy has a real impact on real lives.
Cottrill, who lost her mother to Alzheimer's and infant daughter to a chromosomal disorder within months of each other, said she is keenly aware of the impact of words and actions. She praised the teams at Women's Medical Associates of Nashville, TriStar Centennial and Alive Hospice for surrounding her and her husband with the care, support and education needed to allow them to make informed decisions.
"That kind of experience really puts into perspective why what we do matters and how important it is to have an integrated and communicating health system and how important it is to have an educated and empowered patient."
Cottrill's days are focused on helping clients communicate efficiently and effectively, but she's perfectly content to spend her evenings discussing the various merits of trucks, cars, construction equipment ... and all things LEGO®, she said of spending time with her husband and six-year-old-son, Jack. "In my off time, I am chief reader of 'The Magic Treehouse' and designated master LEGO builder," she added with a grin.
Cottrill noted she's always happy to read with Jack and hopes he'll become a lifelong learner. It's advice she also takes to heart and shares with others in the field.
"Read everything you can and talk to as many people in the industry as possible. Be a willing collaborator. If we in healthcare don't work together - outside the bounds of competition and swim lanes - we won't succeed," Cottrill counseled.
Other important lessons learned, she shared, "Read more books. Drink more wine. When in doubt, buy the lipstick."