2022 MHA Student of the Year Karrah Teruya reflects on extraordinary graduate school experience

Written By: Rachel Barton

Four women pose together, smiling, in graduation gowns.

Karrah Teruya (second from right) poses with fellow MHA graduates at the graduation ceremony.(Photo provided)

Named the Purdue University Department of Public Health’s Graduate Student of the Year in 2022, Karrah Teruya’s journey from receiving a life-changing cancer diagnosis to becoming a Master of Health Administration (MHA) candidate inspired her professors and graduate cohort alike. Now that she’s finished the program and walked across the graduation stage, Teruya is celebrating her accomplishment.

“Being able to walk across the stage and get hooded for my graduation was a dream come true,” Teruya said. “With my cancer diagnosis, it was never a guarantee that I’d make it to graduation day and be able to walk with my classmates, so getting to experience that is really special.”

From Teruya’s perspective, graduate school was always a balancing act. Her cancer treatments were ongoing throughout her program, so there were many times where she was taking courses while in and out of the hospital. Though adding schoolwork to her long to-do list was challenging, she said it helped her focus on something other than her health.

“With the kind of cancer I have, there are so many unknowns, and the future can seem uncertain,” Teruya said. “But the program was a very welcome distraction, and it gave me hope for a future I could imagine and work toward.”

In her program, Teruya got the opportunity to use her perspective as a patient in the health care system to improve the experiences of other patients. She focused on issues such as work-life balance for health care employees, better top-down communication practices in hospital administration and improving patients’ quality of care.

At the end of her program, Teruya and her classmates had the opportunity to work on a capstone project that was the culmination of everything they’d learned over the course of their program as well as an expression of their interests and career goals. The project was a huge undertaking, but Teruya said it solidified how much she learned over the semester and what she could do with her degree.

“It was really intimidating, but we worked through it step-by-step, and in the end, we had a finished product that could actually be implemented,” Teruya said.

Together with her project partner Suesan Coleman, Teruya developed plans for an ambulatory surgery clinic in South Bend, Indiana. The project involved researching medical needs in the South Bend community, identifying how to address those needs and building out plans for the surgery clinic from the bottom up.

Over the course of her time at Purdue, Teruya connected with several of the women in her program and developed close friendships that helped sustain her through the stress of graduate school.

“Me and a few other women had a group chat where we would talk about things relating to the program and our lives in general,” Teruya said. “Everyone came from a different background and had a unique story, so we were all able to learn from one another.”

Since Teruya and her friends were in Purdue’s first online MHA cohort, she considers her graduate school experience a kind of successful experiment. In the future, she hopes she can use what she’s learned to support health care staff and improve patients’ quality of life. To that end, she’s currently working toward a yoga certification so she can host community yoga classes for patients and caretakers, and she is starting certified nursing assistant courses in the fall, which will help her get yet another perspective on the health care system.

“When we started the program, we were guinea pigs in a way,” Teruya said. “But I think our successes and what we were able to build is a testament to how this online program can make a difference in people’s lives and change health care for the better.”

To learn more about Purdue’s award-winning Master of Health Administration, visit the program’s webpage.