A Cure for Communication

“There’s no better place to be sick than in Boston,” says Ben Sharbaugh ’07. His confidence comes not as a doctor or patient, but as someone who has chosen a field far outside his comfort zone. As the director of interactive media for Harvard Medical School, the creative writing and communication arts grad finds himself right in the middle of the medical world, contributing to the good work of medical advancement in his own way.

Four years after graduating and pursuing a career in public relations, Sharbaugh wanted to be “in proximity to interesting people” who cared about learning. He was drawn to the world of higher education—specifically, Harvard University. “It’s such a vibrant place,” he says.

Initially, Sharbaugh’s job consisted of publishing lectures online and promoting them on social media as well as encouraging uniformity within the different Harvard University websites. In 2017, he left his role in Harvard’s central administration and became the director of interactive media at Harvard Medical School, where he now focuses on digital strategies including web development, marketing campaigns, social media and mobile apps.

Navigating technological advancements and encouraging others to embrace the change, Sharbaugh says, is an element that has pushed him out of his comfort zone. “It’s been really cool to be in an environment where I have to push myself to wrap my head around new things every day and interact with other people who are different [from] me,” he said. “I hadn’t spent a lot of time previously interacting with scientists or medical researchers.”

The key, he says, is building relationships at the institution as his team makes digital advances. “We’re trying to get people to cooperate with us and not resent the changes we’re making,” he said. “The best way to get people to work with us is to be kind, build friendships and prove to them that we have shared goals. It’s all about trying to make people feel like you care about their work and know what you’re doing.”

Sharbaugh credits these critical relational abilities to lessons from his Gordon days, from developing “thick skin” as editor of The Tartan student newspaper to taking challenging courses with the “electrifying presences” of English professors Paul Borgman and Mark Stevick. “Since I’m not an expert in a lot of technical things, my career is based on my ability to work with others and treat people well,” he said. “My education in liberal arts and the humanities put a huge focus on human nature and how people think and relate to one another.”

Sharbaugh says he is proud of the role he plays in promoting the work of Harvard Medical School, supporting doctors who save lives and researchers who make significant discoveries. “The medical school is doing incredible research in Boston that’s curing diseases and saving lives,” he says, “and it’s empowering to help the school be better funded and recognized for its contributions.”