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Northwestern is no longer accepting applications to this program.

The MSHC program provides students with tools to learn how to reduce the cost and improve the quality, safety, and patient experience within the healthcare space. Core classes include topics in difficult conversations,  the US healthcare system, changing health behavior, interaction design, and communication processes . Students learn how to design, produce, analyze and evaluate communication policies, protocols, media products, and content distribution channels/networks for individuals, organizations, and agencies charged with improving health and health care outcomes.

Degree Requirements

Students can complete the degree in one year and have the choice to start in the fall or winter quarter.  All coursework must be completed within five years of the first quarter of enrollment.*

Domestic Students

The program curriculum consists of 10 total courses: 

  • Six (6) core courses, 1 credit each
  • Two (2) elective courses, 1 credit each
  • One (1) Proseminar course composed of guest speakers and professional development resources and workshops, 0.25 credit each quarter
  • The choice of one (1) internship or one practicum, 1 credit

Total: 10 credits are required to complete the MSHC degree within 5 years

International Students

  • Six (6) core courses, 1 credit each
  • Two (2) elective courses, 1 credit each
  • One (1) Proseminar course composed of guest speakers and professional development resources and workshops, 0.25 credit each quarter
  • The choice of one (1) internship or one practicum, 1 credit
  • International Course, 2.25 credits spread over three quarters

Total: 12.25 credits are required to complete the MSHC degree within 5 years

*International students are those studying on a student visa. US citizens or permanent residents are not considered international students. International students must maintain a 3 credit, full-time course load in order to maintain visa status.
**Course schedule subject to change.

Core Courses

Students are required to complete each of these seven 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.

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.

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 are to introduce students to the challenge and joy of design and provide them with the initial foundation required to become creative competent designers.

Difficult Conversations in Health:

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.

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.

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.


The goal of this course is to support students in their professional development as health communication specialists. This is goal is achieved through a combination of career development workshops and guest speakers who can speak to emerging trends, bring real-life application to the curriculum, and share perspectives on possible career pathways in the field of health communication.

Listen to some of the MSHC faculty describe more in-depth descriptions of their courses.

Past Electives

Students must complete two (2) elective courses. Elective offerings vary each year are determined on faculty specialization and student interest.

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.

Dialogues About Change 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.

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.

Health and Misinformation

The notion that people are misinformed about health has almost reached the point of truism. From those who believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism to fake news about the spread of COVID-19 and healing crystals, health experts sound the alarm on medical misinformation. After all, when it comes to medical advice, fake news, rumors, and pseudoscientific BS can results in physical harm, or even death. This course will explore the factors that make people vulnerable to misinformation and the reasons that attempts to debunk falsehoods so often fail. We will also analyze how those tendencies are exploited by various stakeholders and consider possible remedies that could be employed to combat misperceptions. 

Healthcare and Marketing

This course serves as an introduction to Health Marketing as an applied area within the field of Health Communication. Health Marketing involves “creating, communicating, and delivering health information and interventions using customer centered and science-based strategies to protect and promote the health of diverse populations” (CDC, 2005). Students who take this course will apply traditional marketing concepts (e.g., conducting formative research, segmenting a target audience, crafting communication messages for diverse communication channels, creating an evaluation plan) to address a variety of health related problems. In collaboration with Health Promotion and Wellness at Northwestern University, students will design, implement, and evaluate a customized health initiative or intervention.