Winston Scholar plans to use health communication for change

adriana tejada

Adriana Tejada

Online Population and Health Sciences Degree Program; Health Communications Manager at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in the Bureau of Healthcare, Safety, and Quality

Adriana Tejada has long been interested in the health beliefs and habits of people around her. “I'm from Lawrence, Massachusetts, which is a predominantly a Hispanic community, and I've seen firsthand how a lack of effective communications impacts the way that the residents of the city view public health, health care, or even their own treatment plans.” 

When she watched members of her family struggle to adhere to medical guidance, maintain prescribed diets, or stop taking prescribed medications, she began to wonder how she could help make a difference. 

This curiosity led Adriana to pursue her bachelor's degree in public health at Rivier University, where she developed a deep interest in the field of nutrition. Upon graduation, Adriana was offered a position at a non-profit organization called New Hampshire Hunger Solutions, a role focused on child nutrition, specifically advocating for the State of New Hampshire to provide free and reduced-price breakfasts for students.

The role was an exciting step for her. The work also involved time on social media, relationship building with stakeholders, and active community involvement. Through these experiences, she realized her affinity for health communication. 

“I'm still interested in nutrition. But I'm also interested in the way that people think and how I can analyze people's behaviors as it relates to their health. What I'm most interested in are people's beliefs in nutrition and I want to see how I can positively impact and change those to improve health outcomes.”

Soon after Adriana decided to lean into her passion and pursue her master’s of public health degree. Meanwhile, she had transitioned to a new communications-focused role as the Health Communications Manager at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in the Bureau of Healthcare Safety and Quality. “I just wanted to stay close to my family. I'm so engaged in my community. I love my state, and I love my job. So, I don't want to leave just yet, I'm not quite ready.”

“I am a planner, I always do my research.” While researching her next move, Adriana discovered Michigan Public Health's fully online MPH degree. “Michigan is one of the top-ranked public health schools, and I liked that there were so many concentrations to choose from. Other MPH programs had two or three areas of concentration but Michigan has so many options, and you’re able to alter your study depending on what your career goals are. That was most appealing to me.”

I've become a resource for my new team. I was able to use a framework I learned to streamline the communications, and my colleagues really loved it.

Adriana enrolled at Michigan in the fall of 2022, and is already implementing her classwork into her 9-to-5 work. "I've become a resource for my new team. For example, I was able to help with a report on fall and injury trends in nursing homes last month. A colleague sought me out to help wordsmith this project’s data findings and I was able to use a framework I learned in Dr. William Lopez's class to streamline the communications, and my colleagues really loved it.”

She hopes that she can build these skills into a career that will allow her to be a health ‘translator’ for her whole community. She’s recently been able to see a future for herself where she can be a bridge, connecting those gaps in health communication to the immigrant and Hispanic communities she cares for - a future she wasn’t always sure she could attain.

Like many considering pursuing a master's degree, Adriana worried that financial barriers would disrupt her journey. By proactively searching for funding before she even applied to grad school, she found the Winston Scholarship and set her sights on it. 

The David A. Winston Health Policy Scholarship is designed to recognize individuals working in the realms of public health, health, and public administration who aim to advance public health through policy-related work. “My communications role lives within the policy team of my bureau, and I manage the related communications and respond to media inquiries regarding state policies, so the scholarship opportunity aligned well for me.”

winston symposium

2023 David A. Winston Scholar Symposium session. Photo from Adriana Tejada

During the summer of 2023 Adriana was named a Winston Scholar. “When I heard the news I couldn't believe it at first because, after a couple of rejections, and not hearing back from other fellowships or scholarships I’d applied to, I was sort of in disbelief. I even emailed them to make sure it was real! I just felt really blessed in that moment.”

As a recipient she receives funding for school and she receives an invitation to a valuable networking and learning symposium event. Current and former Winston scholars and fellows congregate in Washington, DC, alongside health policy makers in a day-long session focused on all things health policy. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with a range of health policy folks and leaders. There were so many interesting panels with individuals that work directly on The Hill - there were legislative assistants, health advisers, senators, and legislators.” 

As a health communicator, the highlight of the experience for Adriana was getting to meet with a number of reporters from outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post. “I was able to ask them questions about how they started, how they developed their writing skills, how they got their foot in the door, and about their experience in the communication of health policy. Our cohort was part of some great conversations about the future of the field.”

To go through this experience with other like-minded people in public health, it made me feel like I'm going in the right direction.

The event introduced Adriana to a multitude of health policy topics and facilitated connections with panelists and fellow scholars from universities across the US. “While it was clear that we’re  all kind of working towards different things, the main goal for everyone was advocating for people to have a voice in their health and to help people to be healthy.”  

For Adriana, the impact of receiving the award went beyond having a bit of financial burden taken off her shoulders. “Receiving this scholarship has meant a lot because for a long time I felt like I wasn't doing enough, or maybe that I wasn't worthy of an opportunity like this. To go through this experience with other like-minded people in public health, it made me feel like I'm going in the right direction. Along with the financial relief, it offered a nice bit of validation that I will be able to make change in public health and in my community.”