Heather White

Heather White, '14

Tell us about your current job:
I recently joined CareOregon as the Healthy Community Initiative Coordinator for Tillamook County in Oregon. In essence I serve as a bridge between the local Coordinated Care Organization and the local community members, particularly Medicare/Medicaid and underserved populations. My role focuses on understanding the county's health needs and work to both empower the community to improve overall health and enable CareOregon to better meet the needs of its members. 

What did you study as an undergraduate, and how did you decide to get a degree in Health Communication?
As an undergraduate student at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho I majored in Pre-Medical Biology and minored in Communication. I ultimately decided to study Health Communication because I wanted to be able to help people at a broad scale and affect change that increases health equity and health literacy in underserved populations.

How did you learn about the Tufts program, and what made you choose it?
One of my most trusted professors at NNU is a Boston native and as we talked about my options for graduate school she told me that Tufts was simply the best. I liked that as an MS student I could focus on the interaction between communication and behavior change and still finish in two years. Once I met Sue Gallagher at a visit day, I knew I made the right choice.

​Did you work as a grad student, and how feasible was your approach to the program?
I was fortunate enough to work as an intern in the public relations department at TUSM. The internship helped me shape my voice as a communicator, and gave me practical experience in taking complex health topics and boiling them down to what people need and want to know. I worked a great balance of hours and was able to work through the summer as well.

​Tell us about your ALE - where did you do it, and what are some of the most valuable skills that you gained?
For my ALE I worked with the Infectious Diseases Clinic at Tufts Medical Center, measuring the health literacy of patients with HIV, and comparing commonly used materials for HIV patients and average readability scores. I also interviewed the physicians in the clinic to understand their concerns around health literacy and whether it was on their radar. I learned a lot about the practicalities of blending patient and provider needs in populations with complex medical needs, and what great patient-provider communication can mean for improving the health of patients. 

If different than your current position, what was your first job after graduation?
My first job was as a Communication and Coalition Specialist for Revere CARES, which is a community-led coalition based out of MGH's Center for Community Health Improvement. It was a great place to start putting what I had learned into practice and learn even more about the impact of community involvement in health initiatives.

​What are some ways in which your Tufts degree has equipped you to work in the field?
The theoretical foundations in how people make health choices and how to influence them is something I lean on often, as well as an understanding of the nuances involved approaching health from a socio-ecological framework. I have also gained a point of view that is more people-centered than when I first started, thanks to the diverse viewpoints of the students and faculty. 

​Do you have any advice for current students, or prospective students considering the Tufts MS in Health Communication program?
This program is what you make of it-if you want to be a writer or journalist, you can do that. If you want to work in community health or health IT, it's possible. The sky is the limit in a lot of regards. The important thing is to find what you want, and the faculty are a great support in the moments when you aren't sure or want to talk through any concerns. And spend time doing informational interviews or doing internships if possible! I learned a lot in my internship and also by meeting with people to find out what kinds of jobs I could see myself doing, and it helped me focus my interests a lot.

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