Claire Berman, Harvard School of Public Health

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"The combination and theory of practice, as well as the Applied Learning Experience, gave me a solid foundation that I can draw on to work on a diverse array of health communication projects."

Director of Health Education and Communication, Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS), Harvard School of Public Health
MS in Health Communication Program, 2012

Tell us about your current job
Currently, I am the Director of Health Education and Communication for the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) at the Harvard School of Public Health. In this role, I lead the strategic health communication efforts for the study, identifying and addressing critical areas of need in health communication for various target audiences. These include study participants (youth), their caregivers, other researchers, and the general public. I work closely with a Health Education and Communication Committee that I have assembled to ensure that all critical perspectives are represented as we make decisions about priorities and projects to pursue.

One of my recent projects is a focus group study that aims to understand how young adults who were infected with or exposed to HIV at birth are now using technology as they transition to adulthood. I’m leading the effort to design two distinct websites, one for researchers and one for young adults in the study. A few interns from Tufts and Emerson are helping us create an innovative disclosure workbook for caregivers living with HIV. I have also formed a youth community advisory board to solicit regular feedback from young people, and to better understand their views about living with HIV and their health information needs.

In January 2013, I was appointed as a Commissioner to the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth. The Commission is made up of experts and advocates who make recommendations to various State agencies about ways to create an environment across the state in which LGBT youth can thrive.  I am passionate about all forms of social justice and I am glad that I am able to bring a health communication perspective to this team.

What inspired you to pursue a Master of Science in Health Communication?
My inspiration came through an independent volunteer position I took with Save the Children in Mbabane, Swaziland. My position, originally intended to last two months as HIV Youth Program Volunteer, turned into 14 months as Program Manager for a USAID grant focusing on strengthening child protection networks throughout the country. It was during this time that I was immersed in, and became fascinated with, communicating health information to vulnerable populations. I had initially planned to return to the US and purse an MPH, but I found myself researching health and communication programs instead – a niche I had no idea existed until then.

What drew you to the Tufts Program?
I had never heard of health communication as a separate degree before finding the Tufts program. As soon as I saw the list of courses that the program offered and realized I was excited to take every single one of them, I knew it was the right fit for me.

How did your Tufts degree help prepare you to work in the field (or what were the highlights of your Program)?
I feel that my degree from Tufts prepared me extremely well for my current role. The combination of theory and practice, as well as the Applied Learning Experience, gave me a solid foundation that I can draw on to work on a diverse array of health communication projects. In particular, my coursework on health literacy, health communication theory, health writing, and epidemiology and biostatistics helped prepare me with applicable skills in the field.

What advice do you have for prospective students?
I suggest doing as many informational interviews as you can with people whose jobs you think you might enjoy so you can get a sense of what their actual day-to-day is like and what their career path has been. Think about the job you’d like to have, and then work backwards from the requirements you see in the descriptions for that job. This will help frame the types of internships or Applied Learning Experiences you may want to seek out so you can fill any gaps in your experience and skills. And take risks and branch out as much as you can!