Clear and informative health communication is an integral part of public health. Communication is at the center of almost all patient care, including disease prevention and treatment, patient education, immunizations and other preventative care, crisis abatement and management, and more. Health communication is also an important mechanism for positive social change, as it is the foundation of health interventions that help populations that are vulnerable to poor health outcomes.

Masters in communication programs with a specialization in Health Communication train individuals to manage health-related communication in the public and private sectors, and to promote social change through the creation and dissemination of content that educates people on public health issues. Individuals who graduate from master’s programs in health communication may work in such environments as hospitals, health departments of government agencies, non-profit organizations, biotechnology companies, and health technology companies.

Curriculum Details for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Specialization in Health Communication

Master’s in communication programs typically require students to complete a sequence of core courses prior to beginning their specialization classes. These core classes cover the fundamentals of effective communication across all environments, not just health-related and medical settings. Topics covered in such courses include effective writing and rhetoric, strategic communication methods and principles, communication law and ethics, and research in communication. For more information about the classes that comprise the core of master’s in communication programs, please refer to our Masters in Communication Specializations page.

After completing their core coursework, students generally progress to classes specifically concerning health communication. These classes typically cover a wealth of topics, including but not limited to the U.S. healthcare system, persuasive communication to promote patients’ behavioral change, health campaign strategy, provider-patient communication, effective communication amongst members of a healthcare team, crisis management through communication, and health-related marketing and public relations strategies. Examples of courses specific to health communication programs are listed below:

  • The American Healthcare System: An overview of the United States healthcare system, including how care is delivered to different populations, the relationship between health care providers, insurance companies, and patients, and how medical care is funded through public and private means. Important topics in health care, including challenges in the accessibility and quality of care for different patient populations. The history of health policy, how the U.S. health care system has evolved since its inception, and how government regulations impact care at different levels.
  • Behavior Change Through Communication: Human psychology and behavioral change, and the role of education and persuasive rhetoric in motivating change. Different methods of persuasive communication, including storytelling, brand-building, educational content, and constructive questions. How health care providers and leaders in medical care use rhetorical strategies to convince different individuals, from patients to policymakers, to take the necessary actions to improve health outcomes.
  • Health Informatics: The application of data collection, analysis, and computing to the delivery of healthcare, the promotion of public health initiatives, and the conducting of actionable health research. The adoption of electronic medical records and the use of data analysis to evaluate health care outcomes at medical institutions and in certain communities. How to use findings from research and data gathering to educate patients and the community, and further certain health care missions.
  • Campaigning for Health: The principles of campaigning, applied specifically to medical care, disease prevention, and health promotion. Media production strategies, campaign funding methods, consumer research, and targeted marketing methods are several topics covered in this course. The role of patient/consumer education and effective communication in the promotion of human health across the lifespan.
  • Communication in Medical Settings: The different lines of communication that are important to patient care in medical settings, including patient-provider communication, provider-family communication, and communication between healthcare providers and administrators. The strategies for effective communication between these parties, including writing and disseminating educational materials, forming positive and supportive relationships, and managing different streams of information from different sources to arrive at accurate and actionable conclusions.
  • Crisis Communication: The different types of communication that are important in the event of a crisis, including the preparation of news releases, sending warnings and/or safety instructions to affected members of the community, managing public relations around the event, and updating information regarding the situation on the web and in other media. In addition, the importance of communication in preparing communities and organizations for different types of crisis situations.

Master’s in health communication programs typically require the completion of between 30 and 60 course credits, which students can fulfill in 12-18 months of full-time study, or 18-30 months of part-time study. Below is an example of a curriculum schedule for a master’s student pursuing a 24 month course of study in health communication. Please keep in mind that course content, titles, and sequencing can vary across programs, and that many master’s in communication programs afford students some flexibility in when they complete certain courses (e.g. students may choose the order in which they complete their concentration classes, after they have completed their core curriculum).

2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan in Health Communication

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
Core Courses:
  • Leadership in Communication
  • Essential Theories of Communication

Core Courses:
  • Digital Media and Technology in Communication
  • Ethics in Communication
Core Course:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
Concentration Course:
  • The American Healthcare System
Year 2
Concentration Courses:
  • Behavior Change Through Communication
  • Crisis Communication
Concentration Courses:
  • Health Informatics
  • Campaigning for Health
Concentration Courses:
  • Health Communication Practicum and/or Individual Work on Capstone Project

Potential Careers for Master’s in Health Communication Graduates

Professionals who are experts in health communication can find work at community health centers, hospitals and medical centers, health technology and wellness companies, news outlets, social advocacy organizations, and other institutions that have a health-related mission statement. Their strong written and oral communication skills, coupled with their understanding of human psychology and behavior, qualifies them to support important public health causes, empower patients through health education initiatives, and develop marketing strategies for companies that have products or services that promote consumer well-being. Graduates of master’s programs in health communication may assume roles such as one of the following:

  • Community Health Education Specialist: Health education specialists work at hospitals to develop and manage health and patient education initiatives. Their work involves frequent interaction with patients and health care providers. Their job also involves making connections with organizations in the community, such as schools, fitness centers, and reproductive health clinics in an effort to campaign for healthy lifestyle habits, health risk awareness, and other preventative care measures. Community health education specialists’ mission is to create educational programs for patients and the community that improve health outcomes in the short and long-term.
  • Social Advocacy Strategists: Social advocacy strategists who work for health-related organizations are experts in creating media campaigns that spread the message and further the mission of the organizations that employ them. Strategists employ written web content, video, public outreach events, and social media campaigns to create and spread important health-related messages that seek to create positive behavior changes in target audiences.
  • Marketing or Public Relations Specialist: Health-related companies ranging from hospitals to health insurance companies and fitness technology companies must develop sound marketing and public relations strategies. Marketing and public relations specialists at these companies wear many hats in order to uphold their company’s brand identity. Their daily work may include drafting public relations announcements in response to key company events (such as acquisitions or customer inquiries), developing marketing campaigns that combine patient/consumer education with brand promotion, and writing intra-company communications to help educate employees about their company’s mission.
  • Journalists: Journalists who specialize in health-related communication write about the health care system, the accessibility and quality of patient care, and the environmental and socioeconomic factors that affect the health of different demographic groups. Their goal is to spread awareness of issues relating to health, in order to empower their readers with the knowledge to better care for themselves and their families. Journalists in this field may also write articles and opinion pieces advocating for positive changes in the health care system and/or in government regulations that affect community health.