United States Graduate Programs in Health Education and Communication

Health Communication Graduate Programs explore areas such as health education, school health education, public health education, or health promotion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health communication as the “study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health."As such, a health communication degree program could tackle elements of social marketing, outreach, public policy, strategic planning and more.

How to earn a graduate degree in Health Education Communication

Health Communication Graduate Programs: Basics

Health Communication Graduate programs are available at all levels, from certificates to masters and PhD degrees. Universities that offer Health Communication Graduate programs often have a unique mission, such as a focus on holistic wellness, media studies or social health issues. Students who pursue a health communications (HCom) degree could therefore study different things based on their program’s goals.

For instance, in some public health communications programs, students could learn to develop, deliver, and evaluate health and disease prevention programs and campaigns. Also, through the use of strategies and tactics based on science and consumer research, students might develop the skills to ensure health information is circulated and that health policy initiatives are shared and implemented.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some health educator positions require a master’s or doctoral degree.ii

What is Health Communications?

As a field of study, health communication and health marketing often draw on the work of scholars and practitioners in a wide range of sciences and disciplines. Some programs highlight business practices and marketing tools, while others might stress the medical aspects of health, education in disease prevention, and wellness.

Health Marketing

An area that is often highlighted in health communication is the (social) health marketing aspect. Health communication and social marketing share a common goal which is to help foster social change through a transformation of people's attitudes, and/or help others modify or eliminate certain behaviors.i Prenatal care, smoking cessation, nutrition and obesity campaigns are some examples.

Health Education

Health education is another branch of health communication. Health educators assess the needs of people and communities, then teach behaviors that promote wellness. Students who are interested in health education graduate programs may therefore learn to collect and analyze data, advocate for improved health resources and develop various programs and events to disseminate information. Consequently, a health education and communications degree might draw course material from several areas, or emphasize one over another. Some of these are listed below.

  • Advertising
  • Communication
  • Epidemiology
  • Marketing
  • Psychology

Masters in Health Communication Programs

Masters in Health Communication programs often award the Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) degrees. Students could choose a program that is influenced by science and medicine or, one that is rooted more in the study of communication and health marketing.

Admissions

Applicants who seek admission to a MS in Health Communication program must have a bachelors degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA set by each grad school. Other material generally includes transcripts, letters of reference, a personal statement and resume. GRE scores may be required by some universities and colleges.

Master of Science in Communication: Health Communication 

A Master of Science in Communication (MSC) program could offer health communication as an area of emphasis. Students who pursue their MS in Communication could acquire both general knowledge of media relations and persuasion, along with specific proficiency in how to launch a health campaign or brand health services.

Curriculum

Most MS programs in Health Communication require students to complete about 36 credits, which a full-time student might be able to finish in about 2 years. Credits could be broken down into core communication courses, health communication concentration courses, electives and either a capstone internship, research project, thesis or comprehensive examination. Since program length and course credits vary, make sure to refer to the information provided by the universities on your list.

General MSC courses tend to provide an overview of various theories and methods, such as the art of negotiations and conflict resolution. Students might also learn about ethical practices and concepts of organizational behavior and leadership. The MSC courses typically form the bulk of the credit requirements.

Health communication courses are often where students study ways to use the media for health promotion, social change, and population education. Students could learn how to take an applied approach to research and planning efforts through an exposure to case studies. For instance, they might learn to create their own health models and brand strategies based on an evaluation of why some health campaigns work while others fail.

Master of Science in Health Communication

A Master of Science in Health Communication program could provide students with a solid base in the science, theory and practice of effective population centered health communication. Students who pursue this type of MS program could build a grasp of some of the foundational elements of epidemiology and public health practice.

Curriculum

The courses covered in a Master of Science in Health Communication program could address patient-provider and mass communication interactions. In some schools, a heavy emphasis is placed on applied or ‘hands-on’ instruction. Students could be expected to complete a capstone project and take courses in professional communication so that they learn how to write about health and medicine. Also, various courses may expose students to research methods, qualitative tools and insights into data management.

Core HCom courses may explore topics in biostatistics and medicine. Through these courses, students could learn to read and interpret medical literature. Other courses might examine ways to change health behaviors and the media strategies to apply communication theory to health communication. A class in technology and design could round these studies out with some design and development concepts. Students could therefore gain some of the technical skills and knowledge used to create health communication materials.

Electives, which could help students tailor their studies to specific interests, are drawn from a graduate school’s list. You could expect these and other course names to vary. In some of the programs, students might elect self-directed study (for-credit internship) as an elective. Other topics might include health literacy, digital strategies, mobile health design or medical journalism.

Master of Science in Health Education 

A Master of Science in Health Education program could help students learn to solve community health issues through instructional programs that promote healthy lifestyles and behaviors such as HIV prevention.

Curriculum

Coursework in a MS in Health Education program could focus on the skills and knowledge needed to design, implement, administer and evaluate health programs. Consequently, a curriculum could draw content from leadership, public health, epidemiology, human resources, statistics and more. To finish their program, students may have to complete a capstone project.

Master of Arts in Health Communication

As an alternative to a Master of Science, a Master of Arts in Health Communication program could discuss things from a holistic and client-centered approach to wellness. Students could learn to coach others towards health and wellness based on a view of the whole person and evidence-based strategies and methods.

Curriculum

Students who pursue a MA in Integrated Health Studies could explore various modalities of healing and learning. For instance, they might learn to incorporate meditation, yoga, guided imagery, mind-body techniques, whole foods nutrition, exercise and movement, and stress management into a one on one coaching session. Aside from coursework, students may need to complete an internship to gain professional experience. Some programs could also allow students to take coaching classes so that they could work towards post-degree certification as health coaches.

Graduate Certificate in Health Communication

A Health Communication Certificate could tackle a single topic in just a few courses. Students might pursue a Certificate in Health Communication as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with a masters degree, such as a Master of Public Health (MPH) program. Applicants who pursue the certificate on its own could therefore need a bachelors degree, while others may have to first apply to the MPH program.

Curriculum

Universities with graduate certificates in health education and promotion might require students to complete about 4 courses. In these courses, students may learn about the behavioral, social and cultural theories of population health. Other courses could present evidence-based methods of health education and promotion that addresses risk factors for death, injury and disability. Students may also be able to take an elective that focuses on preparation for the Certified Health Educator Specialist (CHES) examinations.

PhD in Health Communication

Some universities may offer PhD in Health Communication programs for those interested in a terminal degree and who want to conduct doctoral research. Often, due to the heavy emphasis on research, a PhD seeker might find a school where they want to be affiliated with a specific faculty member. Then s/he might be able to develop an individualized course of study based on their research interests, such as media and technology.

By contrast to a research doctorate, some graduate schools might offer a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree. This is a practice-based terminal degree. Students in a DrPH program could build a strong knowledge base in social and behavioral sciences theory, leadership, grant writing and more. Those who earn their DrPH in Community Behavior and Education might also learn to design and implement action plans for population health based on an assessment of their research findings.

Post-Degree Certifications

Some Health Communication Graduate Programs might help students prepare to pursue post-degree certifications. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some employers require health educators to obtain the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. This is offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing Inc.ii

Eligibility for the CHES exam requires students to have a bachelors, masters or doctoral degree from an accredited university or college. The degree should either state that the student majored in health education or had a specific number of course credits in the Seven Areas of Responsibility and Competency for Health Education Specialists.

Beyond the CHES, some individuals might be eligible to take the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential. This is typically for health educators with advanced education (masters degree or higher) and experience.iii If certification is your goal, make sure to speak with an advisor to ensure your selected program might support these efforts.

On Campus or Online Health Communication Programs?

Health Promotion Graduate programs may be offered at regionally and nationally accredited schools in both on campus and online formats. If you prefer to learn face-to-face, you could look for schools in a specific city, state or country. Some grad schools schedule courses in evenings, on weekends or during summer, so there are various ways to earn a degree in health education and communication even if you are a busy adult. To this point, an online health communication degree could provide flexible schedule options and the ability to study on a laptop. Review all your options, then choose a great program that you are motivated to commit to.

Health Education and Communication Career Outlookii

Health Educators are employed in a variety of environments, from governmental agencies and healthcare facilities to private and non-profit organizations. In each of these environments, health education specialists might have different responsibilities. If your aim is to pursue a career in a specific setting, keep this goal in mind as you look for a health communication degree. For instance, health educators in nonprofits may need to know how to write grants, whereas a nurse educator might need to lead hospital efforts in patient care.

Per the BLS, employment of health educators and community health workers is forecast to grow by 13 percent to the year 2024. One of the reasons for this is that insurance companies, employers and governments look for ways to improve health outcomes while they work to reduce costs.

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[i] cdc.gov/healthcommunication/healthbasics/whatishc.html |[ii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm | [iii] nchec.org/mches-exam-eligibility

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