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Exploring Health Communication

By: Mara Marks, Class of 2018

Every Saturday in the MSHC program is an opportunity to learn, process and share with
professors and classmates. While the syllabus identifies the class topic, between
current events in healthcare and each student’s unique point of view, class discussions
move in many directions. Whether it was an introduction to a new application of a
current concept or a researcher’s work, I never knew what little piece of information
would spark my attention. I also could not have anticipated how connected I would feel
to a class reading, and that the connection is still strong months after the end of Fall
Quarter.

To further understand issues with quality of healthcare, we read an article by Dr. Atul
Gawande, which highlighted significant healthcare costs in the town of McAllen, Texas.
Coincidentally, I had lived in McAllen and even worked at one of the healthcare facilities
reviewed in his article. I was able to put faces and images to the people and places Dr.
Gawande described. The emotional and personal connection I felt to this topic
motivated me not only to read the multiple follow-up articles Dr. Gawande wrote about
this Texas town’s quality of healthcare, but also some of his other public health
research. Armed with some additional concrete examples about the impact of quality of
care, I shifted my focus to my new Winter Quarter coursework.

I soon discovered that the lessons and topics learned during Fall Quarter were still with
me. References to Dr. Gawande, a completely unfamiliar name to me a mere few
months ago, popped up in my professional licensure renewal coursework, on medical
television shows, and even in one of our Winter Quarter lectures. I quickly realized how
many other familiar concepts were showing up in our current lectures and readings.
Access to care as related to healthcare technology (electronic medical records, apps for
wellness and chronic disease management) and the iterative process of design
(creating the technology or diagramming how to best have a difficult conversation) were
only a few examples of how our work this quarter is building upon our work in the fall.
Each week, our professors have facilitated opportunities for our cohort to delve into
these, and other topics, so we can get at the heart of how to identify healthcare
problems and begin to solve them.

As my appreciation of the dynamics and layers of health communication deepens, I find
myself exploring areas that had not interested me as much prior to starting our program,
such as access to care and population health. Part of this exploration is directly related
to my connection to Dr. Gawande’s article featuring my former home. Each course adds
to my problem solving skill set and piques my curiosity about healthcare. I am excited to
incorporate my new knowledge of health communication in future endeavors. I also am
confident that in a few years time, a student will be sitting in a MSHC course and
personally connect to an article or lecture from one of my peers, and begin their cycle of
exploration of health communication, just like me.