Graduate certificate programs in health communication provide students with advanced training in communication principles and strategies that can be applied to a variety of medical and health-related settings. The curricula for these programs vary depending on the skill set students wish to acquire. For example, there are graduate certificate programs in health communication that emphasize applied skill development in public relations and marketing for professionals who wish to work for health care organizations. There are also certificate programs that specifically train health care providers in optimizing their interpersonal and patient-provider communication strategies.
Graduate certificate programs in health communication often cover such topics as patient advocacy, health intervention design and delivery, social media campaigning for health organizations, risk communication and risk management, health literacy, and interpersonal and intercultural communication.
Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
Graduate certificates in health communication are distinct from graduate certificate programs in public health, health care administration, or health informatics in that health communication focuses on the communication side of health care programming and advocacy, which includes not only the design of health education campaigns, but also the implementation of marketing strategies that promote health-related products and services. In contrast, public health and health care administration concern more comprehensive health program development and management, respectively, while health informatics is defined as the application of information technologies to streamline health care services and information flow.
Graduate certificates in health communication are generally comprised of four to six classes, or about 12-18 course credits. As these programs are designed for working professionals, they are shorter than a master’s program in health communication. Typically students can complete a graduate certificate program in health communication in a year or less of study, though some programs may allow students to complete the program over a longer period of time.
As mentioned previously, there are a variety of graduate certificate programs in health communication that focus on different aspects of this broad and diverse field, which allows different types of professionals to concentrate in the precise area of health communication that interests them. While some programs may be ideal for health care or social service practitioners seeking to hone their interpersonal communication skills, other programs may focus on helping people apply advanced design, public relations, or marketing tactics to health care or health promotion initiatives.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
Currently, there are fewer than 30 graduate certificate programs in health communication. For students who do not live near a campus-based program, online programs may be the only option for pursuing a certificate program unless the student is willing to relocate. Most online certificate programs are also designed for working professionals. As such, online programs are also a good option for students who are unable to commute to campus for lectures and other course activities on a weekly basis.
Examples of online graduate certificate programs in health communication include:
- Boston University’s online Visual & Digital Health Communication Graduate Certificate is comprised of 16 course credits that prepare students to design health communication strategies that promote positive behavior change in consumers and utilize emerging media technologies. Students take two required courses, Visual Communication in the Digital Health Age, and Social Media Strategies and Tactics for Health Communicators, followed by their choice of electives in areas such as interactive marketing, epidemiology for health communicators, media and public relations for health communicators, and advanced health writing.
- Loyola University’s online Health Communication Graduate Certificate is a 15-credit program that focuses on how to leverage emerging media technologies and strategic communication principles to promote health and well-being within a community. Students learn how to design and implement health campaigns, and manage health-related communication challenges such as crisis situations and promoting health literacy in disadvantaged communities. Classes in this program cover such topics as the impact of new media on the culture of communities at the sociopolitical and economic levels, the process of building effective health campaigns, conducting health communication research using both qualitative and quantitative methods, and the relationship between health communication and a community’s culture.
- Sam Houston State University’s online Graduate Certificate in Health Communication and Public Relations is the result of a collaboration between the University’s Departments of Mass Communication, Sociology, and Population Health, and provides targeted training in mass communication and public relations principles as they relate to optimizing public health outcomes and health organizations’ relationships with stakeholders. Students take two core classes that cover strategic public relations and advertising for the health care field, as well as communication theories and applications for community health educators. They can then take electives in areas such as medical sociology, advanced digital writing, social media marketing, human ecology, and consumer health education.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s online Certificate in Health Communication is a 12-credit program designed for health professionals who want to gain knowledge and skills in health communication to enhance their career path, but who do not want to complete a full master’s program. The certificate program allows students to choose from a wide variety of courses offered in areas such as health and family communication, health informatics, health policy, communication within health organizations, and health campaigns.
- Western Kentucky University’s online Graduate Certificate in Communicating in Healthcare is comprised of 12 credit hours of advanced courses that train students to understand the role of communication in medical organizations and patient health outcomes. This program is suitable for health professionals who wish to learn how to communicate more effectively with patients and other target audience members in order to optimize health literacy, patient compliance, and consumer advocacy. Students take required classes in health communication, health campaigns, and organizational management in medical and community health settings, followed by electives in areas such as crisis communication, group communication, and intercultural communication.
Important Information Regarding Graduate Certificate Programs
In addition to the certificate programs listed above and in the table below, there are also certificate programs in health communication that are designed for students who are currently enrolled at the institution at which they are offered. These programs allow students to gain additional skills while completing either their undergraduate or graduate degree program. They are not standalone graduate certificate programs that accept new students.
Some examples of these types of programs include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Graduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary Health Communication. This program is only open to current graduate students at UNC who want greater training in health communication strategies and research. Another example is the University of Utah’s Interdisciplinary Certificate in Health Communication, which is only open to current students of the institution. The 18 credit-hour program is offered through the University’s Department of Communication and students take a foundational course in health communication, and then choose between courses in health campaigning, and health, communication, and culture.
Students researching graduate certificate programs in health communication should read the admission requirements carefully to ensure that the programs they are considering are open to students who are not currently enrolled at the college or university.
Examples Courses for Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
While courses for graduate certificate programs in health communication vary by program, examples of courses that students might take in a health communication program include but are not limited to:
- The American Health Care System: An in-depth overview of the United States health care system, with particular emphasis on the role of communication between health care organizations, governmental bodies, and individuals. Students explore how communication dynamics between patients, family members, and health care providers, as well as between media outlets and the general public promote or hinder health outcomes at the individual, community, and national and international levels.
- Interpersonal and Family Communication: The relationship between family communication dynamics and the health of members within the family unit across the lifespan, from infancy to late adulthood. Students use various communication theories and research methods to investigate intergenerational relationships and to identify communication issues that influence health and well-being. They also explore communication-related solutions to health-related challenges within the family unit.
- Diversity in Health Care: Students investigate and discuss the specific health challenges facing specific groups and underserved communities, including women, racial minorities, members of socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and members of the LGTBQI community. Students discuss the sociopolitical contexts that affect different demographics’ access to quality health care and information, and identify ways to resolve health inequalities through improved communication strategies amongst various stakeholders.
- Health Campaigns and Advocacy: The process of designing and implementing a successful health campaign, from conducting research to identify a public health problem to analyzing the problem’s legislative, social, and organizational roots and building an advocacy strategy using various forms of media. Students also learn how to evaluate and modify health campaigns and other advocacy efforts after implementation.
- Health Marketing: Both fundamental and advanced marketing strategies as they apply to hospitals and medical centers, community health organizations, public health departments, and other related organizations. Students learn how to conduct comprehensive research of the market and to explore and utilize various marketing tactics in a holistic marketing plan, including conducting needs assessments, building a successful brand, and using data analytics to inform the production and distribution of different forms of media to connect with stakeholders and the public.
- Risk Communication and Management: The essential strategies for identifying and managing risk in a wide variety of situations through effective research and communication. Students examine various case studies and develop risk communication plans both in groups and individually to address the challenges these cases present.
- Health Literacy: Deficits in health literacy across different realms of health care and different demographics is one of the central causes of health problems. Students learn about the origins and dynamics of health literacy challenges facing people both globally and nationally, as well as the specific barriers to health literacy that certain demographics face, such as immigrant families, economically disadvantaged individuals, and young mothers. Students discuss a wide variety of approaches to assessing health literacy within a community and developing multimedia solutions to support low health literacy populations across the health care continuum.
Master’s in Health Communication Programs
Some schools that offer graduate certificate programs in health communication also offer master’s degrees in health communication. For schools who offer both a master’s degree and a graduate certificate program in health communication, the certificate program’s coursework will often overlap with the coursework for the master’s program. For example, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) offers both an online Master of Arts in Communication with a concentration in Health Communication, as well as an online Graduate Certificate in Health Communication. Students of JHU’s Certificate in Health Communication program choose from a variety of courses that also serve as the electives for students enrolled in JHU’s Master of Arts in Communication program.
Master’s in health communication programs tend to be comprised of 30 to 60 course credits, depending on how the school structures its academic year and credit system. Unlike certificate programs, which often require a year or less of study, master’s programs in health communication typically take at least one if not two or more years of study to complete. This is typically due to a greater emphasis on advanced communication theories and research methods that master’s programs require. In addition, relative to certificate programs, master’s programs in health communication typically have a stronger focus on research as opposed to applied skill development. Many master’s programs in health communication also culminate in a capstone course or project that usually involves students completing either a thesis or an applied project. The capstone is designed to allow students to demonstrate the skills they have learned throughout the program.
For a full list of master’s programs in health communication, please check out our Master’s in Communication with a Specialization in Health Communication page. For students interested in online programs, check out our FAQ on online master’s in health communication programs.
Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
Disclaimer: Students pursuing a graduate certificate program are typically not eligible for financial aid, however, it depends on the school and the specific program. Colleges and universities can apply to the U.S. Department of Education for financial aid eligibility for their graduate certificate programs; therefore, some graduate certificate programs in health communication may be eligible for financial aid. Students who wish to apply for financial aid should check with each program they are considering in order to determine which ones are eligible for financial aid and which ones are not, as a program at one school may be eligible, while a program at another school may not.