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Using an MS in Health Communication to Make an Impact at Every Level

As Stacey Bashara ’16 was driving down Michigan Avenue one evening, a bus pulled up next to her. As she looked over, she noticed an ad for Northwestern’s MS in Health Communication program—and wondered what it was about.

“Among my clients are several health advocacy organizations that focus on addressing health disparities and healthcare access, so healthcare issues were already on my radar,” she explains. Bashara runs Trilogy Interactive, a digital communications firm that gives campaigns and nonprofits the flexibility to be fast-acting, effective, and memorable.

A few days later—as she was getting ready for work—she heard a radio ad for the program. It piqued her curiosity, so she did some research and attended an info session.

“I heard Dr. Bruce Lambert give a sample lecture  and realized this was the program I’d been waiting for—even though I hadn’t planned on ever returning to school,” Bashara says. “I never combined my passion for writing and communication with my interest in healthcare—or realized there was such a program of study.”

As a Northwestern University alumnus—earning her BS from the Medill School of Journalism in 1991—she knew Northwestern would deliver an excellent curriculum and so she enrolled. Bashara wanted to learn in a classroom: a chance to have energetic discussions and connect with instructors and peers one on one.

She also knew that the MS in Health Communication degree would be applicable right away since she worked closely with health advocacy clients. At the very least, it would put credentials behind her skills.

“What I didn’t realize, however, is that the program would teach me so much about empathy, understanding patient experiences, and the difficulties people face when they engage with the healthcare system,” she says.

Her cohort was a diverse group—from people right out of undergraduate school to healthcare providers, insurance specialists, and even a flight attendant. “Every class had vibrant, dynamic group discussions, which were amplified by the fact that everybody was coming from very different backgrounds.”

During summer quarter, she spent eight weeks performing hands-on, intensive group work: creating a health communications plan for NUCASLL (Northwestern’s audiology department) for her practicum. “We went several times to meet staff and listen to patient sessions to learn more how difficult it is to engage patients who needed hearing aids in the audiology process. It was a fascinating healthcare problem to address!”

After graduation, Bashara put her degree to work right away, reaching out to healthcare organizations she’d always wanted to work with and landing new clients as a result. “There’s an insatiable hunger for people who understand the issues surrounding health literacy, and who can deploy strong communication and persuasion science to get messaging across.”

She also found a way to make a local impact with her degree by reaching out to Howard Brown Health to volunteer at Broadway Youth Center, a haven for LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Howard Brown Health is the largest organization in the Midwest dedicated to LGBTQ+ health. “There are an astounding number of under served and underrepresented young people who come through the Broadway Youth Center,” she says. “All of the aspects of health communication we learned about were put on display right away at Howard Brown.”

When she’s not busy running her business, Bashara also provides academic writing support to current MS in Health Communication students. “It’s a great way to stay engaged with the program and its students,” she says. “If you have a passion for communication and people, you’ll find many ways to leverage this degree and make lives better. An MS in Health Communication doesn’t lead graduates down a single path; there are hundreds of possible career options that come as a result.”