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, risk/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. Finally, health communication plays a pivotal role in patient-provider and family-provider interactions in numerous healthcare settings.
Masters in Health Communication programs, as well as Master’s 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.
The majority of master’s in health communication programs prepare students to work in medical and health-related organizations, and therefore tend to have more applied coursework. However, some programs in the field prepare students to conduct advanced research at the doctorate level and to engage in health communication pedagogy for careers in academia.
Curriculum Details for Master’s in Health Communication Programs
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 as they apply to medical and health-related settings. Health communication encompasses a wide range of communication forms, including health promotion, interactions between patients and their caregiver team, health care interventions, and the use of health communication technologies.
The foundational curriculum for master’s in health communication programs often gives students an overview of these and other types of health communication, while providing students with skills and methods to succeed in positions within these sub-fields. Topics covered in core courses for health communication programs may include health communication research, organizational and mass communication theory, strategic communication methods and principles for medical settings, and health communication law and ethics.
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Johns Hopkins University
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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, the specifics of provider-patient communication, effective communication amongst members of a healthcare team, risk/crisis management through communication, health-related marketing and public relations strategies, and health policy and advocacy.
Examples of health communication courses include:
- 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.
- Risk Communication: The different types of communication that are important in the event of a crisis or disaster, 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 disaster 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 for a Master’s in Health Communication
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While most master’s in health communication programs have a strong applied focus, in that they prepare students to work as advanced communication professionals in the fields of medical care, health marketing, public health and policy, and more, there are also programs that have more of a research or theoretical focus. These social scientific programs are ideal for students who would like to become scholars of or instructors in health communication. Some programs may also allow students to choose either an applied or a more academic track based on the electives they choose to take, and there are programs that combine instruction in both research and applied practice for students who would like to gain advanced training in both disciplines.
Due to the variances in curricula across different master’s in health communication programs, it is important for students to research core and elective courses for their programs of interest to ensure they match their academic and career goals.