By Kerry Colby, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
As people continue to navigate through constant news and updates surrounding the global pandemic, health communication is as crucial as ever. Thankfully, universities have already been making strides to implement health communication programs.
Last fall, the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication launched its online master’s and graduate certificate program in Health Communication & Promotion. Designed for those who work in communication fields and health sciences, the program is ideal for those seeking to refresh and update their skills or specialize in health communication and promotion according to Chelsea Newman, Clinical Assistant Professor at Murrow College.
“Due to the progression of technological innovation, it’s becoming more relevant for medical practitioners to need public relations efforts and communication strategies in their field,” Newman said. “Doctors and medical professionals are now utilizing social media and online portals, where the organization is able to interact with patients directly, so it’s increasingly important that we train professionals to be proficient in this arena and communicate health information effectively.”
The Murrow College’s Health Communication & Promotion program is one of a few online health communication degrees in the country, preparing students in the health communication field. It focuses on the connection of health care, medical news, public relations, and digital media to effectively communicate health information to the public, ranging anywhere from medical epidemics to public health challenges. Students from the program can work as public relations or marketing managers, health communication and public health specialists, multimedia content creators, social media coordinators, health journalists, public information officers, and more.
The program coursework addresses best practices in market research techniques, multimedia content creation, crisis communication, professional ethics, and research methods. In Chelsea Newman’s course, Communicating Health in the Digital Landscape (COMHLTH 573), students learn how to digitally promote a health topic through a variety of online platforms, and discuss it effectively through writing, critical thinking and persuasion skills. They develop a website, blog and social channels, craft health messaging and infographics, and promote these messages using innovative digital promotion tactics. Students get to explore various social networks and understand their evolution, as well as future trends.
Convenience and flexibility are as appealing as the opportunity to move forward academically and professionally. The Health Communication & Promotion program presents an ideal opportunity to simultaneously advance one’s education while also growing professionally. The graduate certificate offers an expedited route to gain experience in just 12 credits, while the online master’s still presents a convenient way to further one’s education in 30 credits.
“A lot of these students are working full-time or are busy balancing work and personal lives, and it can be difficult to pause these endeavors to go to school and gain more expertise to move up in your career,” Newman said. “The Health Communication & Promotion program allows students all over geographically and from all different walks of life to further their education efficiently and on their own schedule.”
Sergio Enciso is an enrolled student in the program who, after working in the health communication field for 10 years, realized he wanted to further his education to advance in his career. He currently works at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Health Education, assisting clinicians to create health education materials for patients and families.
Enciso is passionate about making a bigger impact within Hispanic communities. He hopes to someday work for the FDA or the CDC working specifically with Spanish speaking individuals in a health communication role.
“In general, my observation of health care communication in Spanish communities is that there’s a lack of information and resources written specifically for Spanish speakers and speakers of other languages in the United States,” Enciso said. “We can do better at understanding who our particular audiences are when it comes to new migrants or speakers of other languages and be able to provide tailored information that reflects their cultural background and differences. I believe that a lot of progress has been made to provide information to LEP [Limited English Proficient] families, but a lot more can be done to continue to improve.”
For student Kristen Hovet, who’s able to complete the program from British Columbia, joining the Murrow College’s Health Communication & Promotion program holds a personal connection. Kristen just reached her five-year remission mark after being diagnosed and treated for cancer in 2015. This experience changed her career from a more general writing and administration focus to a health journalism and medical science communication pursuit.
“My experience with cancer in young-adulthood inspired me to help ensure the spread of accurate and evidence-based health information,” Hovet said. “When I came across the global campus option at WSU, it felt like a match made in heaven!”
While the program is only in its second semester, students are already enjoying their experience so far. The program has a great technology and social media component, Enciso said, which has been valuable since technology is always evolving and social media is becoming a norm in health communication.
“My favorite aspect of the program has been the balance of theory and application,” Hovet said. “I also love that my professors and classmates are so positive and supportive. It’s amazing to learn about the varied backgrounds of my professors and classmates, yet we all seem to share an intense desire to give back and help others through the ever-growing field of health communication.”
Newman agrees, noting how students are striving to be effective proponents of health care communication initiatives and to be strategic in bridging gaps for problems they’ve identified or can relate to, much like Sergio and Kristen.
“They’re not just focused on the degree, but the impact the degree can have and the change it could make for society. Most of the students desire to be more empowered to make an active difference and are actively increasing their ability to do so,” Newman said. “They’re people with big hearts and a desire to further elevate the health communication field.”