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Paths to Health Communication

By: Mariah LaRue

One of the things I love most about health communication and my group of classmates at Northwestern is the variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and disciplines represented in our class and broader field of study. We have each taken much different career paths, yet have all ended up working towards solving similar problems.

I came to health communication from a social science background, but that was not always my plan. Initially, I thought I might work in health care as a genetic counselor, but when it came time to sign up for classes I realized I was not particularly interested in the coursework. I ended up majoring in communication instead. During my studies, I happened to have a teacher who does research in health rhetoric. Listening to her discuss her research interests was eye opening to me because I had never considered the overlap between social sciences and health. From that point on I became very keen on learning more about health communication. Eventually, this interest led me to the program at Northwestern.

While I came from a social sciences background, many of my classmates came from other fields of study. There are others like me with communication, writing or public relations backgrounds, but there are plenty of students with business or science backgrounds. We have nurses, writers, pharmacists, managers, scientists, and marketing professionals just to name a few. My classmates range in age and many of them have come from all over the globe to study at our program. Some have been working in medicine for decades, some are just starting a career, and others are making a career change. We all have different motivations for being here and different experiences that prompted us to explore the field of health communication. The coursework integrates our different backgrounds, and we all learn from one another.

These differing perspectives are particularly useful to me since I am still early on in my career. Most of my experience in health communication has been as a patient, or some theoretical context reading about behavior or communication models. I also have yet to officially work in health communication. Since my own experiences are somewhat limited, I find it very helpful when my classmates speak up and offer different insights. Often, they notice and raise points I have never considered before. Since many of them work in contexts I will probably never experience, it means I have the opportunity to consider things in a way I may never have if not for sitting in class with them. The varied dynamic of our class makeup could be beneficial to any student regardless of the background, whether they’ve been working in industry for a while or are new to the field. We learn from one another.

In short, there’s no right path to health communication, and no perfect path to a dream job. However, the diversity in the program has allowed me, and hopefully others, to benefit as a student of this emerging discipline by learning from my classmates. This health communication program is another step in our paths.