Issues in healthcare affect people all over the globe, including everything from healthcare reform to environmental health crises. A responsible and effective communication strategy requires health communication professionals to understand subjects such as biosystems and disease, public health and nutrition, the healthcare system and epidemiology.
A health communication degree focuses on the intersection of health literacy, healthcare, marketing, public relations and digital media to prepare the student and professional for the many issues that they will encounter in the health communications field.
What Is Health Communications?
Health communication is the practice and study of communicating health information, including health education, public health campaigns, and communications between the doctor and patient. A professional who works in health communications creates and uses products, programs and interventions to promote positive health changes in people and communities. They use tactics and strategies that are based upon science and consumer research.
Health communications includes these features:
- The application of public relations and marketing theory to practicing health communication.
- The employment of communication strategy, methods and technology to communicate healthcare information, influence communities and affect change on various health related topics.
- Evaluation of the significance and value of social, traditional and emerging digital media practice in health communication.
- Interpretation and application of communication research to health communication.
The healthcare field in the US is growing impressively, with 18% job growth anticipated from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than average when compared to other occupations. It is expected the economy will add approximately 2.4 million new jobs in this period. In fact, healthcare occupations are expected to add more jobs than all other occupation groups. This rapid growth is generally because of the aging US population which causes a higher demand for healthcare services.
One of the best job opportunities for health communications professionals is medical and health services manager, also referred to as healthcare administrator. This managerial and communications professional is responsible for planning, coordinating and directing medical and health services. A medical and health services manager can be responsible for an entire healthcare facility, a certain clinical area or a medical practice.
There are currently 352,000 medical and health services managers working as of 2016. The biggest employers in this profession are:
- Hospitals: 36%
- Doctors’ offices: 11%
- Nursing and residential care facilities: 10%
- Government: 8%
- Outpatient care centers: 7%
This is a great field for those with a health communication degree because employment is expected to rise by 20% by 2026, which is much faster than average. As the baby boom population is getting older and people are more active in their elder years, there should be more need for various healthcare services. This means there will be higher demand for doctors and other healthcare workers and healthcare facilities. Thus there is more need for healthcare managers and communication professionals.
Salaries for medical and health services managers in 2017 was $98,350. The bottom 10% with a bachelor’s degree and less experience earned $58,350, while those with more experience and a master’s degree earned more than $176,000. Salaries in different industries and facilities were as follows:
- Hospitals: $107,200
- Government: $106,200
- Outpatient care centers: $89,900
- Doctors’ offices: $89,700
- Nursing and residential care facilities: $82,900
Online Degree Programs
Students who want to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in health communication can often do so online without having to leave their home. Getting a degree online has other advantages as well: You can attend universities far from where you live, and continue to work on a full or part time basis if you choose.
Experienced professionals who want to earn their master’s online may consider the Master of Science in Health Communication that is offered by the University of Illinois Online. This two year degree program is focused on healthcare and public health professionals who want to earn an advanced degree in move into management level positions. It also is appropriate for people with bachelor’s degrees in social science programs who want to specialize in health communication.
Students in this program will study the relationship between health and communication in interpersonal, organizational and mediated contexts.
Required classes include:
- Introduction to Health Communication
- Health Communication Research Methods 1 and 2
- Health and Family Communication
- Provider and Patient Communication
- Health Informatics
- Organizational Health Communication
- Nonprofit Organization Management
- Health Campaigns
- Health and the Media
The majority of health communication degrees are master’s programs. But there are some combination bachelor’s and master’s programs to consider. One of them is at the University of Minnesota where you can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Arts in Health Communication.
This program is designed around an innovative curriculum that includes strategic communication, public health, health communication and related disciplines. Core classes connect mass communication to public health and will introduce the student to the many factors that influence behavior related to health.
This joint bachelor’s and master’s program is designed to ready you for a career in healthcare that relies upon health communication to improve the health of people and communities in which they live. This can range from the design of health promotion materials to informing healthcare administrators, from policy development to research, and from communication with patients and non patients in the general public.
Most health communication degrees are at the master’s degree level. You can choose to earn your degree online or on a college campus as there are plenty of good options out there. Northwestern University offers a Master of Science in Health Communication that will prepare you to solve important healthcare problems as you apply theories, concepts and methods from the communication sciences and arts as they pertain to healthcare. This is a one year program that takes a new approach to healthcare communication – by bringing together social influence with the science of human centered design.
The admission requirements to enter a health communication program vary, but to enter the master’s program at Northwestern University, you need to have the following:
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- GRE scores are optional; other universities may require them
- Writing samples
The master’s program at Northwestern University has the following course requirements:
- Changing Health Behavior
- Human Computer Interaction
- US Healthcare System
- Engaging Patients to Healthcare
- Experience of Illness
- Health and Media
- Designing Health User Experiences
- Organizational Behavior in Healthcare
To help to pay for your college education, it is wise to look for scholarships and grants through the financial aid office at your university. However, there also are financial aid packages available that can be used at any university. Below are some options:
- Helen and Paul Schnare Scholarship
- Alfred and Marge Crabaugh Scholarship
- John Andrew Robinson and Margaret E. Robinson Memorial Fellowship
- David E. Johnson Scholarship
- Career Path Scholarship
- Ruth Abernathy Presidential Graduate Scholarship
Want to increase your networking and educational options in the health communication field? Consider joining these associations:
- Society for Health Communication
- International Communication Association
- National Communication Association
- National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (CDC)
- Academy of Communication in Healthcare
The healthcare field generally will see very strong growth in the coming years, and a health communication degree is sure to make you a strong candidate for many solid jobs in healthcare management, administration and communication.
- What Is Health Communication? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/healthbasics/WhatIsHC.html
- Master of Health Communication. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bu.edu/online/programs/graduate-programs/health-communication/
- Medical and Health Service Managers. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm