Chattanooga- Administrator’s Corner: Michael Ringering, Director of Marketing and Communications, University Surgical Associates
With his background in major league baseball, Michael Ringering knows a thing or two about acronyms. Baseball is the land of RBI, WAR, ERA, and numerous others.
And then he sat in on his first physicians meeting, in 2005, as the new director of media relations and public relations at University Surgical Associates in Chattanooga. Though he had little knowledge of healthcare, Ringering felt good about his new landscape.
At least at first.
“I went to one of the Wednesday morning physician meetings, and somebody mentioned ‘AAA,’ and I thought ‘great, we’re going to talk about baseball; I love to talk about baseball’,” Ringering said, thinking the conversation would veer toward triple-A, minor league baseball. “But they were talking a vascular issue.”
The acronyms continued to flow–and they weren’t about pitchers, batters, or sacrifice flies.
“They might as well have been talking in Chinese,” Ringering said.
Ringering was not deflated, did not get down, and certainly did not give up. Instead, he came up with a plan.
“Every time I heard an acronym, I’d write it down and look it up,” Ringering said. “I got a medical dictionary, and I educated myself. I do believe the fundamentals of public relations, marketing communications, and advertising are basically the same, but you have to understand and research the industry.
“So I knew a lot of the things we needed to do as soon as I walked in the door, and we implemented a ton of those things immediately. There’s a lot of moving parts in a practice, and this is a big practice–we’ve got 30 surgeons–and because it’s a teaching practice, there’s a huge educational component. And I’m pro-education no matter what the topic, so I’ve gotten involved in that, too.”
Ringering has since become director of marketing and communications for University Surgical Associates. Since his arrival in 2005, he has added to his original duties by taking on front desk marketing components and Web duties.
So Ringering has come full circle. He now feels at home in health care–and it doesn’t hurt that his wife is a family practice physician. It was the fact that she found a position in Chattanooga, in fact, that led Ringering to leave his post as a public and media relations executive with the Cincinnati Reds.
“I get that question all the time: ‘How did you get from sports to healthcare and why?’” Ringering said. “The answer is, after 16 years in the game, my wife had completed her residency in Cincinnati, and we knew we were going to be leaving that area, and Chattanooga is the place we looked at.
“I miss the game. I miss the statistics, and being around the game. I don’t miss the time. Getting that time back is one of the reasons I was able to start this book.”
Ringering is referring to Six Bits, his first novel and further proof that he isn’t the sort to let obstacles get in his way of success. Ringering actually started trying to write a novel back in college, but his career–especially those 16 years in pro baseball–sucked his time away.
“I’d developed the concept of this book in college,” Ringering said, “and I tried to start it a couple of times more, but finally I just realized that I didn’t have time to do this. I just said, ‘I’ll get to it some day’.”
As he settled into his duties at USA, Ringering thought of the book. It was something he had yearned to do since he was young. His wife was supportive and wanted him to realize his dream, too. So he set back to work, and this time, he persevered.
In Six Bits, Ringering focuses on a man who loses his way and must find himself and redemption–through the help of friends, faith, and family, and also through a series of unexpected twists and turns. Ringering said readers have told him they’re taking different things from the novel, but more than one has compared the novel to the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The protagonist, Jack London Clarke, is named for one of Ringering’s favorite authors.
The book arrived on a Thursday evening before Christmas. Ringering will never forget the moment.
“It was just amazing to open the box, and it was finally real,” Ringering said. “You spend that much time on something, and it’s hard for it to sink in immediately. The biggest challenge was doing it part-time and trying to sustain the drive over seven years. I made sure I wrote something every day–whether it was five words or 5,000 words–to keep it moving along. Some days I couldn’t write fast enough, and some days I struggled to write a single sentence. But I made sure to write something because if I didn’t, I was afraid there would be a gap that would lead me to something else.”
Along the way, Ringering did not let his wife, Teresa, in on his progress. She didn’t get to read over his shoulder. But when she did read, she gave her husband his greatest sense of self-satisfaction where Six Bits is concerned.
“She had no idea about the story, about the characters, about anything,” Ringering said. When he finished writing and editing, he decided it was time to hand it over to his most important reader. “Hers was going to be the final opinion. She has read so much, read in so many genres, that I knew she would know whether it was a piece of crap. I knew she wasn’t going to lie to me. I was nervous because the last thing you want is for your spouse to think you’re a hack.”
The first indication he got of Teresa’s feeling is when she walked into his office, holding the manuscript. She was crying. He at first thought she was crying because she hated it. He saw his dream going up in smoke.
“It was a relief to me that she felt just the opposite,” Ringering said. “She said, ‘I can’t believe this. It’s so far beyond anything I ever expected. It brought out every single emotion in me.’ It was the first time that I thought I might actually have something decent. The look on her face was unbelievable, and it was one of the neatest moments in the whole process.”
Six Bits, published by Autumn Leaf Publishers, is available in print and electronic form by many major booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It retails for $16.95 in paperback and $9.99 in e-book format.