One year after she graduated from Loyola University with a bachelor’s in health systems management, Carlyn LaGrone ’18—like many undergraduates—was trying to find work she felt passionate about.
After encouragement from her mother, she took a Healthcare in America course in college. She had an interest in hands-on healthcare and helping people—and understood the power of communication and how it could improve the healthcare system—but also knew she didn’t want to become a clinician.
“Where did I fit in? I wasn’t sure!” explains LaGrone. After earning her degree, she landed a job with Rush University Medical Center’s philanthropy team as a development associate. In this role, she helped plan events, set up fundraisers, and generate donations. She knew the work she was doing was important—and supported a worthy cause—but it still didn’t click the way she hoped.
“I knew I wanted to do community work and be closer to the communication aspects of talking to people about their health,” she says. “But I also knew I needed the tools and direction to get there.” As she searched for jobs that appealed to her, she realized that many fell under the umbrella of public health or health communication.
When LaGrone first encountered the term “health communication,” she spent time learning what it meant and doing a little research on the subject. That’s when she discovered Northwestern’s MS in Health Communication program.
“I knew Northwestern was an impressive school and that it would be an honor to attend. So I decided to apply for the program,” she explains. “It really opened my eyes to the careers that exist in the healthcare system. There are roles besides working in a hospital. All the pieces just fell into place, and I knew the program was exactly what I needed to do.”
Earning her undergraduate degree only one year earlier, LaGrone says it was a fairly seamless transition to begin the MS in Health Communication program; she still maintained her study habits and ability to multitask. This time, however, it was a different experience: working full time while earning a degree. But she found ways to make it happen (like spending her lunch hours reading articles or studying).
Although it wasn’t easy, she says the genuine curiosity she had for every class helped—from Changing Health Behavior to Difficult Conversations. “There are so many facets of health communication you need to know in order to be an expert,” she says. “I enjoyed and was interested in every single course—even ones I wasn’t excited about at first. I learned something new each week.”
Today, LaGrone serves as a resource manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “My job is very focused on mental health, which is something I care about,” she says. “The idea that education can help change stigmas around mental health is huge.”
Previously, she was the women’s health outreach and education coordinator at Howard Brown Health, where she helped provide direction and vision for outreach to Chicago women for more than two years.
She enjoys working side by side with clients to link them to services and care—using communication styles and strategies she developed at Northwestern to make the information more understandable and approachable.
“It’s amazing to learn these things from the program and then see them become my reality and intertwine with my career,” LaGrone says. “Although I’ve chosen not to be a doctor or nurse, I still really care about the health and well-being of others. I knew I wanted to work with people, but needed a steppingstone. This program got me there and opened doors in ways I never thought possible.”