Health Communication, Careers in

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Study in the area of health communication can serve as good preparation for individuals who want to work in a number of very important arenas related to the modern health-care delivery and health promotion. In fact, communication knowledge and skills are in high demand in the modern health-care system because there are many important health-care functions that are related to communication. The combination of well-developed oral, written, and media communication skills, along with an understanding of the way the health-care system operates is very powerful and of great utility in health-care industries. Students of health communication can perform very important roles in health care and health promotion, helping to improve quality of care and to enhance efforts at health promotion.

Education and Training

Education is one of the growing areas of opportunity for scholars who have graduate degrees in health communication. These scholars are increasingly in demand at universities and colleges to serve as faculty in communication programs, as well as in educational programs related to the health professions. Many health-care professions (e.g., medicine, nursing, pharmacology, physical therapy, psychology) require practicing health-care providers to seek continuing-education credits to maintain their professional licensing, and many hospitals and medical centers have well-developed continuing-education programs for their professional staff. Training in health communication is an important and high-demand area of study. Topics such as provider-consumer relations, interviewing skills, multicultural relations, ethical decision-making, interprofessional relations, and health-care team development are very attractive to practicing health-care providers. Scholars in these areas can provide a great educational service to health-care professionals, health-care delivery systems, and consumers by helping providers develop and refine their skills in health communication.

Health-Care Advocacy and Support

With the growing emphasis on public advocacy, consumerism, and empowerment in research, both undergraduate and graduate students of health communication are well prepared for important information intermediary and advocacy careers within the health-care delivery system. New career opportunities with job titles such as "patient advocate," "health information specialist," and "patient relations officer" are helping to enhance the modern health-care system by providing relevant health information to both providers and consumers. These new information and advocacy professionals help to identify and fulfill the specific information needs of consumers and providers. They relieve a great deal of strain on the modern health-care system by disseminating relevant health information that can encourage and empower consumers to practice disease prevention and self-care and to become active partners with health-care providers in the healthcare enterprise.

Ideally, these specialists help identify appropriate sources of relevant health information that are available to consumers, gather data from consumers about the kinds of challenges and constraints they face within the modern health-care system, and develop and field test information dissemination methods meant to enhance consumers' medical literacy. Such efforts help consumers negotiate their ways through healthcare bureaucracies and develop communication strategies for working effectively with health-care providers. These professionals also act as information intermediaries for health-care providers and administrators by gathering relevant information and feedback from consumers about the nature of the health-care problems these consumers are coping with, their needs within the health-care system, and their reactions to the services they have received within the health-care system. The consumer information that the information intermediaries can provide enables health-care providers and administrators to understand and meet the needs of their clients.

Health Education and Dissemination

There are growing opportunities for specialists in health communication to work as health educators, health science writers, and as health reporters. There is a tremendous need for individuals in the health-care, pharmaceutical, and health-care technology industries who can translate complex technical health treatment and research information for lay audiences. This applies to information provided both orally (in health education and counseling efforts) and in writing (for newspapers, websites, magazines, pamphlets, and advertising). Students of health communication are typically well trained to present technical information to different audiences and have developed strong oral and written communication skills that prepare them for these career opportunities. Similar opportunities within the broad health-care industries are available to students who are skilled as audio, video, film, and new media producers and can effectively present relevant health information to different audiences via these powerful media channels.

Health Promotion

With the growth of efforts at health promotion in the modern health-care system, there are growing opportunities for people to develop and administer campaigns related to health communication. Communication professionals are well suited to collect audience analysis data for guiding message development and communication strategies for campaigns. They develop and field test messages strategies for health promotion, gather formative evaluation data for refining these messages, and identify appropriate communication channels for delivering these messages. Health campaigns are typically mounted by local, state, regional, and national public health agencies, by health-care and consumer-advocacy organizations, and by health-care delivery systems—all of which are good potential employers for experts in health communication.

Research and Evaluation

The are many research and evaluation opportunities available for scholars in health communication because advocacy groups, health-care delivery systems, and government public health agencies have made significant investments in developing public health education communication programs. These communication programs include print materials (e.g., brochures, booklets, and posters), television and radio programs (e.g., public service announcements), interactive media (e.g., CD-ROMs), and websites for providing health information to key audiences via the Internet. Scholars in health communication are in great demand to help these organizations and government agencies evaluate the effectiveness of their current health information delivery programs, to help them tailor their message strategies for specific targeted audiences, and to help them develop new and improved health information dissemination strategies and technologies. Such evaluation research can also help consumers decide which of the many available sources of health information are the most credible, accu rate, and up-to-date sources.

Health Sales and Account Management

The area of health sales is an exciting area of employment opportunity for students of health communication. Companies that sell pharmaceu ticals, medical equipment, and health supplies all need sales personnel who can communicate effec tively within the health-care system. They need people who can understand the complexities of health-care delivery yet explain those complexi ties in laymen's terms to diverse audiences. The companies also want sales personnel who can establish good working relationships with healthcare customers, who can manage standing accounts, and who can develop new accounts.

See also:Health Communication; Provider-Patient Relationships; Public Health Campaigns.


Du Prè, Athena. (1999). Communicating about Health: Current Issues and Perspectives. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Jackson, Lorraine D., and Duffy, Bernard K., eds. (1998). Health Communication Research: A Guide to Developments and Direction. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Kreps, Gary L., and Thornton, Barbara C. (1992). Health Communication: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Sharf, Barbara F. (1997). "The Present and Future of Health Communication Scholarship: Overlooked Opportunities." Health Communication 11(2): 195-199.

Gary L. Kreps

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