Curriculum

The program’s curriculum will include a core of basic classes in communication, collaboration, and leadership; information, interaction, interface, and message design; social influence and dissemination of information about health and risks; the experience of illness from the patient’s point of view; and managing change in health organizations and behaviors. The education provided to students in this program will equip them with the tools they need to design, produce, analyze and evaluate effective policies, protocols, media products, and content distribution channels/networks for individuals, organizations, and agencies charged with improving health and health care outcomes.

The program consists of 10 total credits: 8 didactic courses (six core and two electives, taken two per quarter over four quarters), plus one proseminar composed of guest speakers and professional development, and one applied experience (internship or leadership practicum). The curriculum is designed so that it may be completed in four quarters of study or over a longer time period.

Core courses

Students are required to complete each of these eight courses.

How Interaction Works: Introduction to human interaction, conversation, discourse processes and message design. This course provides students with a general conceptual framework for thinking about all types of interaction and communication processes and will serve as a foundation for the design and analytic work that students do in subsequent courses.

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The US Healthcare System: Describes, explains and analyzes the structure and function of the US healthcare system, including population health, epidemiology, government and commercial insurance, health professions, delivery systems, regulation, safety and quality, the experience of care, cost and outcomes.

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Human-Computer Interaction. This course provides an introduction to the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) and the broader discipline of interaction design. In addition to an overview of HCI and interaction design, the course surveys significant historical developments and current research that promises to be influential in the future. The goals is to introduce students to the challenge and joy of design and provide them with the initial foundation required to become creative competent designers.

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Changing Health Behavior: Covers key principles of persuasion and social influence as applied to management and change of health-related attitudes and behaviors as well as the design of effective messages to promote health.

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Engaging Patients in Healthcare: Reviews history, nature, purpose and outcomes of interventions designed to improve patient engagement in care as well as the quality and quantity of informed consent and shared decision making in varied clinical contexts. Analyzes ethical, clinical, and financial justifications for increasing patient engagement. Reviews approaches to design, analysis and evaluation of decision aids.

Proseminar: Reviews various technologies used to coordinate and integrate health care across time and space (e.g., EHRs, portals, mHealth applications, health information exchanges, clinical decision support). Provides analysis and evaluation of technology as a potential antidote to problems resulting from fragmentation of care. Will be taught as a proseminar during lunch hour across all four quarters, featuring guest speakers drawn from the Northwestern faculty from multiple colleges as well as from alumni and global and national industry leaders.

Difficult Conversations: In this course, students will explore factors that make some conversations in health “difficult”. In addition, students identify various communication-based strategies for overcoming difficult conversations. By the end of this course, students are able to critically examine difficult conversations in health, and have knowledge of several strategies for overcoming them.

Applied Credit: This class is an internship or practicum. It is an opportunity to apply the principles of design, production, analysis and evaluation to a challenging and timely real-world health communication problem. Students select an internship in the third quarter and complete it in the fourth quarter. Students with more than five years of professional experience may choose to complete the practicum, which is a leadership development course.

Professional Skills for International Students: All international students will complete this 0.75 credit course in the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. It includes individualized help with professional development and writing. This course ensures international students complete enough credits each quarter to maintain their visa status.

Electives

Students must complete two (2) elective courses. (Because international students must register for a minimum of 3 credits per quarter, they will complete a total of four electives over four quarters.) Elective offerings vary each year. The following courses are a sample selection of courses that might be offered over a period of several years.

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The Experience of Illness: Introduction to social scientific models of the experience of illness, especially chronic illness. The course analyzes the relationship between medical regimens, chronic illness, and identity, with emphasis on the effects of regimens and illness on body, self, and biography.

Health and Media: This course provides an overview of the research and policy issues related to health and media with a specific focus on issues that are heavily influencing children and adolescents. With a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, this course will talk about the role of food marketing, sedentary media behaviors, and exergaming on child health and behavior. Simultaneously, our mobile and interactive technologies are booming with adolescents as key first adopters of platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. This course will discuss the effects of social media sites, television, and music videos on adolescent physical and mental health including body image, eating disorders, and anxiety and depression.

Designing Health User Experiences: This course will cover issues in the design, evaluation, and future of assistive technology. Speakers and assigned readings will discuss topics such as mobile navigation aids for blind people, communication aids for deaf people, brain-computer interfaces for individuals with autism, and digital pen technology for older adults with aphasia.

Organizational Behavior in Healthcare: Each organization has its own unique missions, values, and culture that influences the way individuals behave in that organization and the way organizational systems are structured. However, it frequently becomes necessary to make change within an organization in response to internal and external factors. This course will introduce the concepts of facilitation, change management, and performance improvement within the context of healthcare organizations. Students will get practical, hands-on experience applying the theories discussed in class to a personal improvement project, which will be the final deliverable for the course.

The Social Context of Illness: This course will focus on the interplay between interpersonal communication processes and health. We will explore the ways that close relational partners communicate about health, cope with health-related problems, and influence one another’s health-related behaviors. Drawing on a variety of communication theories (e.g., theory of illness trajectories, family systems theory, interdependence theory, communication privacy management theory), you will articulate strategies for generating effective health-related communication (and intervening in unsuccessful communication patterns) among patients, romantic partners, and family members. The capstone assignment will allow you to champion one health condition and work in a small group to teach the class about key communication behaviors.

Learning and Health: Survey and exploration of the cognitive basis of learning, literacy and numeracy in healthcare, including discussion of perception, attention, learning, memory, inference and problem solving. Introduces methods for design of materials in light of what is known about cognition.

MS in Health Communication
Northwestern University
710 N. Lake Shore Drive
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Chicago, IL 60611
312-503-4117
healthcomm@northwestern.edu