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What is Health Communication?

By: Bruce L. Lambert, PhD
Director, Center for Communication and Health
Director, Master of Science Program in Health Communication

Bruce_Cropped_BlogIt’s Sunday night. 

The thought of going to work on Monday brings up uneasy feelings, a mixture of dread, anxiety, and boredom. 

You know there must be more to life than a cubicle. 

Your deepest fear is living paycheck-to-paycheck, feeling like you work on an assembly line where your work is not valued, doing work that’s unrelated to anything you studied in school.

You’ve got to make a change.

You’re committed to taking the next step.

You want a job you are passionate about that enables you to pay your debt and save money for your family–one that allows work-life balance but is satisfying and lets you help people.

You want to expand your knowledge and experience in healthcare and to build on your past experience and skills.

You want to make a difference in people’s lives by educating, informing, and changing industry standards.

And hopefully one where robots are not about to take your job.

You’ve done some research, and seen some ads on the web and on the buses and trains.

You saw an ad for a Master of Science degree in Health Communication.

Sounds pretty good. It combines your academic background with your desire to get a good job in healthcare and to do a job that makes a difference in people’s lives.

And a graduate degree will be the advantage you need to stand out in a competitive job market.

But there’s one question that stops you from taking action. 

One question that you keep turning over in your mind: 

What is health communication anyway?!?

Good question! 

Health communication is many things.

A scientific definition would require a good definition of health and communication, and doing it justice would take a book, not a blog post.

(You can find some definitions here, and here, and here.)

I want to offer a more practical definition, one you can use to decide whether it’s right for you.

Above all, health communication is an enormous field of science and practice where many different types of people work to solve communication problems in healthcare

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of these kinds of problems.

Problems like how to improve communication between doctors and patients; how to design messages that persuade people to get colon cancer screening, to quit smoking, to exercise, or to use sunscreen; how to improve the readability of complex information for people with low health literacy; how to engage people in decisions about their own healthcare; how to have difficult conversations about complex or taboo topics; how to combat misinformation; how to assess the usability of computer interfaces to patient portals and electronic health records; and so much more.  

Health communication is an academic discipline where people have careers, and where there are departments, professional societies, scientific journals and conferences.

Health communication is the name of a kind of degree you can get. 

Health communication is a career path for all sorts of people.

Health communication is an admission that things are broken. 

Health communication is a declaration of faith in science and design, a commitment to the idea that we can make things better for people who are sick and suffering and struggling to navigate a healthcare system that is too complex, too fragmented, too expensive, and often actually harmful to their health.

Health communication is an opportunity to make a difference and to do meaningful work.

There is important work to do, and we need your energy, creativity, and commitment to help us make progress.

Come and join us. There’s no time to lose.