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COMM Offers New Concentration

Posted Apr. 14, 2011

By Emily Carle
With the rapidly growing health care and health promotion efforts in the U.S., the School of Communication Studies will now offer a program in Health Communication that is included as a concentration in bachelor's degree program and as a minor for undergraduate students. Graduate students can choose several courses in Health Communication, as well.

The area of health communication may not be a new idea in the communication arena, but many do not understand the breadth and depth of this area of study. COMM Professor Rebecca Cline, Ph.D., described the range of health communication processes in a grid with examples as shown below:

According to Cline, many people “only think of doctor-patient communication when it comes to health communication but it’s much larger than that.” For example, a simple message from a parent to child such as, “clean your plate” is a health-related message. People encounter countless numbers of health and risk messages but don’t see them as such; but anything in that message that mentions or influences lifestyles, risks, diet, and exercise, just as a few examples, all fall under the term health communication. Another common example Cline uses is the beer commercial. In any of today’s beer commercials, a group of young people are laughing and having a good time with a beer in their hands. These advertisements send the message that when you drink beer, you have fun; this is a health/risk-related message.

Cline also explains that “[health communication] is a highly rapidly growing area” as national organizations are calling for employees to be well-versed in health communication. Organizations such as The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have created the infrastructure for communication, but now need properly educated employees to carry out health communication efforts. Unlike other concentrations that have been influenced by communication professionals in order for employers to see their value, this field has come about from the top-down. “We are not educating enough people in health communication and thus are not meeting the need; there is an increasing demand at the graduate level,” Cline notes. There now is a “recognition of need for expertise in health communication across nursing, pre-medicine, public health, health education, family studies and psychology,” Cline adds.

Jeffrey Child, Ph.D., COMM Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator, includes that, “It is exciting for Communication Studies to be expanding and providing students across the university more ways to obtain specialized communication theory and skills training through a variety of new courses.” By opening this new concentration within the School of Communication Studies, students will be prepared at both the undergraduate and graduate level within health communication. With the booming interest and demand within health-related professions, this is the perfect time to expand the field of study. This is not an area that will be fading anytime soon and will continue to grow rapidly as the dependence on the healthcare system also grows.

For students interested in this program, undergraduate elective courses currently are being offered through the School of Communication Studies. In Fall 2011, these courses will expand to meet all of the program requirements for an undergraduate degree. At the beginning of the fall semester, students will be able to select health communication as their desired concentration. This fall, courses offered include: Introduction to Health Communication and Health and the Media. Students can schedule those classes now, and more classes will be available in Spring 2012. “This is certainly an exciting and energetic time to be a Communication Studies student at KSU,” Child said.

Through this program, students will gain a better understanding of health care communication and training, social support, health literacy, media literacy, and the design and development of health messages, programs and campaigns. With all of this, new graduates will be able to meet the demands of the health industries.