Dual Degrees, Double Opportunities: A Conversation with Alumna Kristen Sullivan

by Sara Suter, MPH Candidate ‘16

“We know that smoking is a huge risk factor for cancer; but many people don’t realize that obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity are second to smoking as causes of cancer,” explains Kristen Sullivan, director of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2003, Sullivan received an MS in Nutrition from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a Master of Public Health from the School of Medicine. The Friedman School’s Master’s Program in Nutrition Communication initially attracted her to Tufts. As she found herself increasingly interested in the scientific aspect of her studies, she decided to also pursue an MPH with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics. In combination, these two degrees have made her a very attractive candidate to employers. She has the skills to act as an invaluable liaison between health and research experts and the public, “worlds that can be very different at times.”

According to Sullivan, nutrition and physical activity are becoming more of a focus of cancer prevention efforts, as well as for cancer survivorship. “ Evidence is growing that healthy eating and physical activity are important for those who have a history of cancer, including reducing the risk of recurrence, improving survival, and enhancing quality of life for some cancer types.” The ACS has begun reevaluating existing programs to integrate elements of healthy eating and active living. Internally, the ACS is  also improving on ‘practicing what they preach’ through workplace wellness programs, hosting healthier work events, and fostering the education of staff and volunteers on healthier lifestyle habits.

Sullivan and her team are dedicated to implementing environmental change- in communities, schools, health systems, etc.- with the ultimate goal of making it easier for people to make healthier choices. Part of this work involves empowering staff, volunteers, and constituents, including cancer survivors, to become advocates for change where they live, work, learn, shop, and play, “The vision is to harness the collective power of  cancer survivors and others to create healthier homes, workplaces, and communities.”

“Keep an open mind,” is Sullivan’s straightforward advice for students. She admits she did not exactly know her career path when she first graduated from the MS/MPH program, but her Tufts education gave her a broad perspective, from “touching on biochemistry to how to write a press release,” which allowed her the flexibility to try different positions, learn from them, and find her niche. She adds, “When opportunities present themselves, do not be afraid to take them, even if they are outside your comfort zone.”

Learn more about the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.