Graduate Degrees in Health Risk and Crisis Communication

Graduate programs in health and communication are for individuals who are interested in learning how to use communication tools to effectively prevent health risks and promote health education. 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.

Essential Information

Curriculum in health communications programs at the master's and doctoral levels strive to teach students how to prevent health crises and reduce health risks by using scientific evidence and various media outlets to promote healthy habits and eliminate potential hazards. At the master's level, they can prepare graduates to run health communications campaigns or improve health literacy in the nation, and at the doctoral level, they can prepare graduates for positions in education, research and administration.

  • Program Levels: Master's degrees, Doctoral degrees
  • Program Fields: Master of Science in Health and Communication, Doctor of Philosophy in Communication
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree; master's degree (for some doctoral programs), Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores; letters of recommendation; specific GPA; career goal entrance essay
  • Online Availability: Yes, for some master's degree programs
  • Other Requirements: Doctoral thesis

Master of Science in Health and Communication

Universities often offer this interdisciplinary program through their departments of communications and nursing, focusing 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. 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

Doctor of Philosophy in Communication

Programs at this level allow students to focus on specific topics within health risk and crisis communication. Students 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. 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

Popular Careers

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

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2014 indicated that the 208,030 employed public relations specialists earned a median annual wage of $55,680 (www.bls.gov). The same source reported that the median annual wage was $50,430 for the 57,020 health educators in this country. According to the BLS, health educators and public relations specialists were set to see a 21% and 12% jump in employment from 2012 to 2022, respectively.

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