Graduate Degrees in Health Risk and Crisis Communication
Communicators that focus their efforts on preventing health crisis and reducing health risks use scientific evidence and various media outlets to promote healthy habits and eliminate potential hazards. Education specific to this field is typically found at the master's and doctoral levels.
Individuals who are interested in learning how to use communication tools to effectively prevent health risks and promote health education might consider enrolling in a graduate program in health and communication. These interdisciplinary programs can go by a few names, but most combine a study of health sciences and biosciences with a study of mass communication. At the master's level, they can prepare graduates to run health communications campaigns or effect health literacy in the nation, and at the doctoral level, they can prepare graduates for positions in education, research and administration.
Master of Science in Health and Communication
Universities often offer this interdisciplinary program through their departments of communications and nursing. These programs focus on developing teams of professionals that can prepare the public for health concerns ranging from disease prevention to crisis response. Students learn how to conduct educational campaigns to garner attention for healthcare topics utilizing various outlets, such as social media, television, print, public speaking engagements or online videos. Baccalaureate program graduates are eligible for admission into this program regardless of major, and online programs in this field are available.
Strategic communication programs typically combine coursework in public healthcare issues with public communication techniques. In order to design medically sound campaigns that can range from advocating low sugar diets to immunizing children against disease, students may study topics such as:
- Communication campaigns
- Electronic communication
- Health literacy
- Healthcare policy
- Technological innovations
Insurance companies, drug manufacturers, hospitals and media outlets, as well as non-profit organizations and government agencies hire specialists in health communication. Master's degree holders are often prepared for careers such as:
- Medical communications account managers
- Health and wellness consultants
- Marketing and communications managers
- Physician relations representatives
- Public health advisors
Doctor of Philosophy in Communication
Programs at this level allow students to focus on specific topics within health risk & crisis communication. Students in these programs learn about media relations, ethical issues and epidemiological fundamentals, while they research and write an original thesis. They learn how to play a critical role in public health issues by bridging the gap between the public and the medical and scientific communities.
Some programs require a master's degree prior to admitting students into a doctoral program; other programs simply require applicants to have earned a bachelor's degree. Students seeking admission into Ph.D. programs in communications typically have to supply GRE scores, letters of recommendation and an essay outline their career goals in health and crisis prevention. Often, they must also maintain a specific GPA throughout their undergraduate and graduate careers.
In addition to studying the theories of communication, students learn about quantitative research, social science and the public's desire to engage in science. Preparation for careers in the field of health risk communication often includes training in:
- Human-computer interaction
- Mathematical modeling
- Media influence
- Public health
- Social networks
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2010 indicated that the 225,590 employed public relations specialists earned a median annual wage of $52,090 (www.bls.gov). The same source reported that the median annual wage was $45,830 for the 58,150 health educators in this country. According to the BLS, health educators and public relations specialists were set to see an 18% and 24% jump in employment from 2008 to 2018, respectively.
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