There are two program levels for graduate programs in health and communication: master's degree and Doctoral degree. Both levels require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements expressing interest the program and field, and specific GPAs, which are set by individual universities. A bachelor's degree is required for entry into a master's degree program. Some master's degree programs can be completed online. Doctoral programs in communications generally require the successful completion of a master's degree before enrollment, and the completion of a Doctoral thesis prior to graduation.
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 teaching the skills necessary to effectively communicate scientific information to the public. At the master's level, programs 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.
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 the Doctoral 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 theories of communication, students also develop quantitative research methods in the social sciences. 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
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 2018 indicated that the 270,000 employed public relations specialists earned a median annual wage of $60,000 (www.bls.gov). The same source reported that the median annual wage was $54,220 for the 123,800 health educators in this country. According to the BLS, health educators and public relations specialists were set to see a 10% and 6% jump in employment from 2018 to 2028, respectively.
Students in health and communication graduate degree programs can expect interdisciplinary training in communicating with the public as well as advanced knowledge of health literacy and health risk prevention. These programs prepare students for careers in various public health sectors, including hospitals and government agencies.