As a Senior Associate Medical Director for MassHealth, Massachusetts’ Medicaid and CHIP agency, Viveka Prakash-Zawisza, MD, MS, MBA, has been instrumental in advancing health equity throughout the commonwealth. After practicing as an obstetrician-gynecologist for five years, Viveka decided to return to school to study social policy, where she was inspired to join the public sector.

Since joining MassHealth in 2019, Viveka has served as the agency’s clinical lead for member and community engagement, perinatal health, and gender-affirming care. She recently helped to design and implement new coverage of doula services and worked on Massachusetts’ 1115 demonstration waiver. As Viveka shared, “I bring an equity lens to everything I do.”

As a recent Equity Changemakers Institute graduate and with almost five years of public service under her belt, Viveka shares her thoughts on working in the public sector, leading a team, and making time for rest.


Public sector leaders are the backbone of the U.S. health care safety net, overseeing critical services to support the health and well-being of millions of people across the nation. Portraits in Public Sector Leadership is a series that highlights public sector health care leaders across the country who share their inspiration for their roles — what they are proud of, what the work means to them, and how they strive to make public services work better for people across the nation. View the series


  • Who: Viveka Prakash-Zawisza, MD, MS, MBA
  • Current Role: Senior Associate Medical Director, MassHealth, Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services
  • Public Sector Tenure: 4.5 years
  • CHCS Connection: Equity Changemakers Institute

Q: How did you decide to enter the public sector and what led you to your current role?

A. After practicing medicine in New York and Massachusetts for a few years, I returned to school to study health policy. Prior to that, I hadn’t really considered working for the state, but during school I had the chance to meet state leaders who worked in public health and Medicaid. I had an “aha!” moment in school where I realized that as a systems-level thinker, I could have a real impact by joining the state. So, in 2019 I joined MassHealth as an associate medical director.

I’m passionate about social justice and using health policy as a tool to address inequality and inequity. Policy can bring about transformative change and justice. It’s a tremendous privilege to have a seat at the table and drive policy decisions that impact people’s lives.

Q: What’s a success — big or small— that you experienced recently?

A. MassHealth has made it a priority to solicit and incorporate stakeholder input into the policy development process, specifically the input of our members. This is such a crucial pillar in the practice of health equity, and I’m proud to be leading our member and community engagement strategy to bring this effort to life. We were recently able to visit a remarkable clinic in western Massachusetts that provides primary care to gender diverse individuals. We met with providers and people with lived experience, which helped to inform our approach to ensuring access to high quality care for this population. It was truly a win for me to “walk the walk” and directly engage with the people we serve as we continue to develop and refine our policies.

Q: What keeps you motivated, especially on the difficult days?

A. Having a positive perspective on humanity keeps me motivated. I believe that people are inherently good and that we have more in common than not. I tap into that as much as a can. Even on days when it feels like an uphill battle, I try to have optimism. 

Q: How do you address staff burnout?

A. I try to create a workplace culture where people can be their true selves. It can be exhausting and demoralizing when people feel like they must either completely hide or minimize parts of themselves in professional spaces. Breaking down those “requirements” and creating a space where people can be honest with what’s happening in their lives can help reduce burnout.

I try to model it with my team. I talk openly about my family and my kids. I’ll share how I’m feeling and acknowledge when I’m having a hard time. You can’t create that culture unless you live it yourself.

Q: How do you rest and get reenergized outside of work?

A. One of the most important things I do for myself is to step away from work and go somewhere by myself or with a friend for a few days. I won’t look at my phone or check email. I give myself permission to disconnect and check in with my body and spirit.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to take an entire week off to get rest — even just a day or two off every now and then can make a difference if it’s a sustained practice. If we don’t rest regularly, the chaos of work will consume us.

Q: What’s your caffeine source of choice – coffee, tea, soda, or lucky enough to have endless energy?

A. I drink black tea with a little milk in it. Tea’s a cultural thing for me. I’m Indian and drinking tea feels like home.

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