Course Descriptions

The curriculum offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary mix of health communication specializations.

These specializations include interpersonal, family, organizational, mediated, and social and cultural communication to accommodate the interests of students in a wide variety of professional fields, including (but not limited to) communication, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, psychology, public health and veterinary medicine.

Core Curriculum

The core curriculum includes 10 courses, beginning with Introduction to Health Communication and ending with the Capstone. Courses are eight-week (4 credit hours) or four-week (2 credit hours).

Core classes include:

Introduction to Health Communication (4 credits)

This course is designed to familiarize students with theory and research on communication in health and illness contexts, focusing on how messages from interpersonal, organizational, cultural and media sources affect health beliefs and behaviors. We will explore communication in health care delivery, health care organizations, as well as health promotion and disease prevention. Spanning multiple levels of communication, different communicative channels, and the use of diverse communication media and technologies, this course will demonstrate a variety of perspectives from which scholars examine health communication at an individual, family, professional, organizational and societal level. By the end of this course, students should be able to identify a variety of health communication topics, understand the theoretical foundations underlying differences in the ways individuals communicate about health, exhibit familiarity with health campaign strategies and organizational influences on health, and identify strategies for generating successful or beneficial health-related communication (as well as recognize problematic communicative trends).

Health Communication Research Methods 1 (2 credits)

In a world where communication itself is a form of healthcare, how can we know which communication strategies actually work? Most of what we know about the role of communication in health comes from systematic collection and analysis of data. This course introduces social scientific methods for research on health communication and health outcomes. These methods may be used either to build general (theoretical) knowledge about communication or to aid in design and evaluation of actual messages and campaigns. Students will learn: how to frame questions that can guide collection of data; how to measure knowledge, attitudes, and behavior; how to systematically evaluate or compare communication strategies; how to effectively use data in making decisions about programs; and how to read and understand the expert literature on health communication.

Health Communication Research Methods 2 (2 credits)

This course is designed to promote a very pragmatic approach to data analysis, combining statistical methods that support decision-making with "high resolution" methods that provide deeper insight. A primary objective, then, is to begin building a repertoire of techniques that can be applied in likely research settings. No prior background in statistics is expected, and because students enter this course with diverse preparation, certain portions of the course will be individually tailored. By the end, everyone will have command of a core set of basic statistical techniques, and everyone will learn something new. A consistent goal for all is to know how to conduct some analysis independently and how to enlist additional specialized expertise when needed.

Health and Family Communication (4 credits)

This course is designed to familiarize students with current perspectives on the interplay between family communication processes and health-related issues. Using theoretical foundations such as systems theory, communication privacy management theory, narrative theory and family communication patterns theory, we will explore the ways that family members communicate about health, cope with health-related problems and influence one another's health-related behaviors. We will also examine how different family relationships (e.g. spouse, sibling, parent-child) may influence health communication and health-related behaviors, as well as different mediums through which such communication takes place (e.g. face-to-face, online, etc). By the end of this course, students should be able to identify a variety of health-related issues which necessitate family communication, understand the theoretical foundations underlying differences in the ways families communicate about health, exhibit familiarity with privacy concerns when sharing or distributing health-related information among family members, and identify strategies for generating successful or beneficial health-related communication among family members (as well as recognize problematic communicative behaviors).

Provider-Patient Communication (4 credits)

Communication is essential in individuals and their supportive others' management of mental and physical health. People facing illness or trying to maintain good health face many challenges: making decisions about treatments and other courses of action, managing uncertainty about their future or the trajectory of their illness, coping with large volumes of information containing potentially conflicting advice, and responding to changes in their identities and relationships as a consequence of illness. Managing those challenges can be helped or hindered by communicating with others (e.g., family, friends, and health care providers). This course focuses on three general areas: (a) communication and identity, (b) health and personal relationships, (c) health care provider-patient interaction. This is an advanced course on the theoretical bases for understanding social interactions in health care settings.

Cultural Considerations in Healthcare (2 credits)

This course provides an overview of the impact of culture on individuals’ understanding and management of health and illness. Additionally, we examine health disparities and challenges experienced by minority and marginalized populations and explore meaningful solutions to healthcare delivery.

Health Informatics (4 credits)

Informatics is a broad term that refers to the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate information management in particular contexts. Health informatics is concerned with the handling and management of information in the delivery of health care and the management of health and illness, and the use of technologies to do so. It is an expansive and multidisciplinary field that encompasses (1) the technical aspects of system design and implementation in healthcare contexts and (2) efforts to understand how and why such systems are used. This course examines the contemporary healthcare environment, stakeholders in that environment, and the technologies that they employ to manage information and communication. We will examine the ways in which patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and others "work" to manage health and illness, and the role that informatics applications play in their efforts. Students will be introduced to the analytic tools (i.e., concepts, models) necessary to understand the relationships that exist between health informatics applications, the individuals who use them, and the surrounding context in which use transpires. Students will also examine pressing problems in the contemporary healthcare environment and explore how informatics applications could be brought to bear on them.

Health Communication Organizations, Professions and Policy (4 credits)

This course provides background on the organizational features of the U.S. health care system. The aim of the course is to provide students with a comprehensive image of the context in which communication between patients and providers, health care consumers and organizations, and public health care messages are sent, received, exchanged, interpreted, and circulated. The course considers four aspects of organized communication and health: 1) background on financing and the system and organization of personal medical services in the United States; 2) the organizations and professions involved in providing personal medical services in the United States and their interrelationships; 3) learning about the U.S. system through international comparisons; and 4) emergent communication issues in the management of health care organizations.

Successful Health Campaigns (4 credits)

This course is designed to give students a greater understanding of the theory, research, and application of health campaigns. The health communication literature cuts across a number of disciplines including advertising, communication, marketing, public health, political science, psychology, and sociology. This course represents some of that diversity with an emphasis on the theoretical underpinnings of several theories used in health campaigns. In addition to understanding the theories behind many of today's health campaigns, we will also spend time addressing important aspects of a campaign including formative research, audience segmentation, message tailoring, and evaluation. In all, the purpose of this course is to introduce students to many of the leading theoretical frameworks in the health campaign literature as well as provide them with some insight into the nuts and bolts of designing and evaluating a health campaign.

Capstone Individual Study (4 credits)

The Capstone Individual Study is this program's version of a master’s thesis. During this eight-week course, students will design and create their "capstone project" which will utilize all of the skills, knowledge, and expertise in health communication that they have gained in the past two years and apply them towards their own personal interests in the health communication field. This project will be guided and evaluated by a committee of HCOM faculty and other healthcare experts in the community. When complete, the capstone project will be something that students can add to their professional portfolios--a research paper, a webinar series, a dynamic presentation, etc.--that will help them establish themselves in their chosen professional arena as a health communication expert.