Campus Leadership

Land of acronym acrobatics


The UW might well be the land of acronym acrobatics.

The campus has an unquenchable appetite for words made up from the initials of other words, and if an organization can’t come up with a name that makes a clever pun, it had better at least come up with something.

By the way, let me first dispel a common misunderstanding: not every term made up of the first letters of words is an acronym. If you pronounce each letter — as in, say, UW — you’ve got an initialism. If you say it like a word, it’s an acronym. Most people don’t know this or even care, but words are important to me.

When I was doing research for the article “Off the Prescribed Path,” I had a conversation with Byron Crouse, who heads up the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, or WARM, which launched in 2007.

When he brought the idea for the program to then-dean Philip Farrell, Crouse says, “his first [comment] was about the name. ‘I like academy,’ he said. ‘I like WARM. Let’s do it.’ I’m not sure if it was the idea or the acronym that appealed to him more.”

The more research I did, the more acronyms I had to stumble through. WARM’s city counterpart is Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health, or TRIUMPH. The medical school has an outreach program that used to be called the Medical Information Center, but is now just MEDiC.

Clever acronyms like that must put a lot of pressure on their departmental siblings. When I spoke with Sarah Esmond of the Collaborative Center for Health Equity (CCHE), I discovered that her organization’s name is pronounced SEE-chee, which took me by surprise, though not as much as its parent organization, the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. ICTR is pronounced ICK-ter. The Native American Center for Health Professions (NACHP) goes by NAY-chip.

The Population Health Institute (PHI) threw me a curveball. PHI is easily pronounceable (it’s even a Greek letter, which the organization could use if it wanted to further abbreviate its abbreviation), but it’s an initialism nevertheless: pee aytch eye. However, it developed from the Center for Health Policy and Program Evaluation: CHPPE, which was pronounced chippie.

I don’t know where this craze for acronyms will end, but I hope it doesn’t overtake the medical school as a whole. Its official name is the School of Medicine and Public Health. I don’t relish the idea of seeing a doctor who graduated from a place called smuff.

Published in the Summer 2014 issue


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