Health Communications

Health communications entails planning a method and sharing important health-related information with an audience. Learn about professional job duties, educational programs, employment outlook and salary info.

Is Health Communications Right for Me?

Career Overview

The field of health communications involves dispensing information related to illness and health to a wide variety of individuals. As a health communications professional, you will develop and evaluate effective health campaigns, manage health crisis situations and work with the media to deliver behavioral health messages. You'll need to have a genuine interest in providing people access to the information they need to attain healthy lifestyles, as well as solid oral and writing communications skills, to succeed in the field.

Job Options

Health communication careers are varied but typically involve developing, refining, managing and evaluating health-related programs and information for public consumption. You may work in the area of health care marketing for hospitals and private care facilities, or you could work within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Nonprofit organizations, private public health institutes and government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also hire health communications specialists. Other positions you may hold include emergency response planner, health education specialist, health consultant or public health analyst.

Salaries and Employment Outlook

If you're interested in health communications, now may be a good time to enter the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected average job growth of 12% for public relations specialists, which includes communications specialists, between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Health educators should experience growth of 19% during the same period. As of May 2012, the median annual wage for public relations specialists was $54,170 and for health educators, $48,790, also per the BLS.

How Can I Work in Health Communications?

Education Programs

As an aspiring health communications professional, various degree options are available to you. Health communications degrees are offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels, though master's degrees are most common. You could pursue a Bachelor of Science in Health Communications, Master of Science in Health Communications, Master of Public Health or a Doctor of Philosophy in Community and Behavioral Health, for example. Some schools offer health communications as a specialty within general communications programs and public health degree programs.

Alternatively, you could pursue a combined health communication and health education degree, as well as a health journalism degree. Certificates are also available in health communications and closely related subjects, such as health and human rights, health policy and public health preparedness, which can supplement a degree and increase your knowledge in certain areas.

Topics of Study

Health communications programs typically provide instruction on how to develop effective health campaigns and communicate key issues to the media and directly to the public. In such programs, you'll likely develop a better understanding of the health care system, diagnosis and disease treatment, social marketing, emergency and risk communication and ethical issues in medicine. Specific courses may include biostatistics, health promotion, epidemiology, health psychology and health media writing.

Certifications

Several professional organizations exist to provide opportunities for continuing education, networking and access to job postings, such as the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare and the Coalition for Health Communication. Voluntary certification as a Certified Health Education Specialist is available through the National Commission of Health Education Credentialing, Inc., which typically requires a degree from an approved program and passing a qualifying exam (www.nchec.org).

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