SciCommer Interview: Monisha Arya, MD

By Fancy Comma, LLC Team

Recently, we talked to SciCommer Monisha Arya, MD, with whom we’ve previously collaborated on the Fancy Comma blog.

photo of monisha arya
A photo of Monisha from her faculty page at the Baylor College of Medicine, where she is Assistant Professor of Medicine. Image Credit: Baylor College of Medicine.

Monisha is an experienced and highly effective health communications expert. She has created multiple successful and award-winning health campaigns with clients including the State of Texas and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monisha is the founder of Arya Communications, where you can find examples of her health campaigns and tips for public medical and science communications and advice for running successful health campaigns. Keep reading for our interview with Monisha!

Fancy Comma: Where are you based? What do you do as a SciCommer, and what is the scope of SciComm in your region?

Monisha: I am in Houston, Texas. As you know, the U.S. South has the worst health and science literacy and, frankly, outcomes in the U.S. I was recruited to a job here years ago to help develop HIV testing campaigns for the fourth largest county in the U.S. – Harris County.

I did this within academia. Over the years, I competed for, and received, seven federally-funded grants to study how best to design and evaluate HIV testing campaigns for this area.

Fancy Comma: How did you break into SciComm? What roles have you taken on as a SciCommer?

Monisha: Looking back, I didn’t know I was doing SciComm. My path talking to general audiences about health and science started when I worked at community health fairs in low-income neighborhoods in D.C. Sometime after that, I worked on Capitol Hill and helped staffers for Congressman Xavier Becerra – our now U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services! – write white papers about tobacco legislation.

Eventually, I ended up making a career out of designing and studying health campaigns to encourage the public about HIV prevention. Along this journey, I relied on strong mentoring and continuing education coursework, seminars, and workshops. I still attend as many continuing education and professional development talks and workshops as my schedule allows. Of course, COVID made this easier since “attending” is now from my desk in my apartment.

Fancy Comma: What advice would you give to the aspiring SciCommers?

Monisha: Follow active SciComm groups on Twitter and attend workshops (many are free…go to the organization’s website and sign up for their email lists) to continue to build skills and hone your talent. I would also recommend attending seminars and workshops led by experts in health or science literacy.

Literacy does not equate to educational attainment. Chicago Literacy Works is one group I actively follow – and I attend their workshops when I can. The IHA Health Literacy Solutions Center is another very active group on Twitter and on their own listserv.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown everyone how hard it is to communicate clearly about science and health in a way that educates and inspires healthier choices.” — @AryaCampaigns on #SciComm and #HealthComms

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown everyone how hard it is to communicate clearly about science and health in a way that educates and inspires healthier choices. Having an MD, PhD, or even Master’s does not make one qualified to explain health or science topics to general audiences. There are principles behind this type of specialized communication.

screenshot of a tweet in which monisha arya details her favorite accounts on Twitter to learn about SciComm
Some resources Monisha recommends to get involved in SciComm!

Monisha’s advice for getting into SciComm: Follow the #SciComm hashtag on Twitter, as well as @AAASMassMedia, @STC_org, @AmMedWriters, and @NewsLitProject. She also recommends checking out @AGU_SciComm and @AldaCenter.

About Monisha Arya, MD

Monisha is a physician, public health professional, health communications expert, and freelance medical writer. She is founder of Arya Communications, where she offers tips for public-facing writing, publishing, and presentations as well as sharing advice for making successful health campaigns. She provides examples of her public advocacy and medical science communications work including her health campaigns including “Advertising Beyond Health,” a short advertisement (created through the promotional agency One Minute Briefs) and “Mental Health Matters,” a video of the striking graphics she created – and was awarded for –  as part of the #MentalHealthAction Design Jam contest.

Her long and prolific career has focused on public awareness and prevention of HIV. She has spent two decades writing for diverse audiences including popular press, policymakers, academic journals, and patients. She launched Arya Communications in 2019. Monisha can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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