Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
Graduate certificate programs in health communication are academic programs that can generally be divided into two categories: programs designed for students interested in health promotion and education, and programs designed for students and healthcare professionals interested in studying communication in the context of direct healthcare. Programs focused on health promotion provide professional training and instruction in the principles and practices associated with using communication tools and technologies to provide the public with clear, coherent, and scientifically based information about illness, disease, medicine, and other health concerns. Health communication graduate certificate programs that are focused on communication in healthcare settings emphasize the use of interpersonal communication skills to improve patient-provider and family-provider interactions.
Graduate certificate programs generally consist of a relatively small cluster of courses – four, five, or six is typical – that confer graduate credits but which do not lead directly to a graduate degree. Instead, students in health communication graduate certificate programs are able to gain the skills necessary to work in the field of health communication without having to complete a full master’s degree curriculum. Thus, graduate certificate programs represent a more affordable, less time-consuming pathway to gaining new skills in and advanced knowledge of health communication principles and practices.
Health Communication Explained
Effectively communicating the latest scientific evidence regarding public health, medicine, pharmacology, diet, exercise, and other factors that relate to wellness and disease prevention requires a knowledge of media and communication platforms and technologies, written and verbal communication skills, and the ability to convey complex concepts to a general audience. Promoting health and wellness through coherent communication strategies represents a multidisciplinary specialization that combines an understanding of public health policy, healthcare systems, epidemiology, and behavioral health with training in public and media relations, marketing principles and practices, multimedia content creation, and communication management skills.
Another aspect of health communication involves the interactions between health care providers and the patients they serve. Patient-provider and family-provider communication are imperative to ensuring positive health outcomes for patients both in primary and acute care settings and across the life spectrum. Graduate certificate programs that focus on interpersonal communication in health care settings give doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and other medical staff the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively with patients and their families about topics such as severity of disease, necessary patient protocols, treatments and their effects, and more.
Health communication specialists are employed by public hospitals, clinics, and medical centers; government agencies and public policy groups that deal with educating the public about health and wellness; and non-governmental healthcare organizations and research universities that have schools of public health and medicine. In the private sector, health communication professionals consult and work for pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, private hospitals and medical centers, and other health and wellness centered enterprises. This work may involve helping to create effective advertising and marketing campaigns, supplying media members with press materials and making media appearances, developing programs to provide the public with critical information about health concerns, informing patients and their families about illnesses and medical procedures/treatment options, and employing the tools of risk communication to allay fears and mitigate harm during public health emergencies.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
Graduate certificate programs in health promotion and communication have several identifying characteristics. They are graduate-level academic programs offered by accredited colleges and universities, often through a school or department of public health, medicine, or communication, which means they require applicants to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and accept candidates who hold master’s and doctoral degrees. Additionally, they are non-degree programs that consist of a limited number of courses that offer career-oriented training in the knowledge and skills required to work in health communication.
While most health communication graduate certificate programs are postbaccalaureate programs that are open to college graduates and mid-career professionals who have a four-year college degree, there may also be post-master’s graduate certificate programs that are designed specifically for students who have completed a master’s program. For students who think they might be interested in pursuing a master’s in health communication in the future, credits earned while completing a graduate certificate may transfer towards as master’s degree, especially if a student pursues the degree program from the same institution at which they earned the graduate certificate. In general, most colleges and universities that offer a graduate certificate program in health communication also offer a master’s degree program in either health communication or public health.
Health Communication Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs are typically comprised of four, five, or six graduate-level courses that may also be offered as part of a master’s degree program. As noted above, many schools that offer health communication graduate certificate programs draw on courses that overlap with master’s programs in health communication, healthcare management, and/or public health. These courses typically cover professional communication proficiencies, digital content creation, and social media, as well as public and media relations tools, communication research methods, and relevant public health knowledge of healthcare systems, global and population health metrics, and bio-statistical data.
Examples of courses commonly offered as part of a graduate certificate program in health promotion and/or health communication are as follows:
- Communication and Health Organizations
- Communicating Health in Practice
- Communicating Science to the Public
- Health and Family Communication
- Health Communication Campaigns
- Healthcare Marketing
- Interpersonal Health Communication
- Introduction to Biostatistics & Epidemiology
- Professional Multimedia Content Creation
- Social & Behavioral Determinants of Health
- Visual Communication in the Digital Health Age
Online Graduate Certificate in Health Communication Programs
A growing number of accredited colleges and universities are offering graduate certificate programs, including health communication graduate certificate programs. In addition many of these schools are offering programs online as a more convenient option for working professionals, compared to traditional, campus-based programs. Online certificate programs also extend the reach of a school’s program to students who live outside of commuting distance of the school offering the program. This means students are not required to relocate if they do not live close to a university offering a graduate certificate in health communication.
Online health communication graduate certificate programs provide the same type of coursework and instruction as their campus-based counterparts, but they do so via learning management systems (LMSs) that support various types of online instruction, including the streaming of live and/or pre-recorded lectures and virtual class meetings. Students in an online program log on to the school’s LMS to complete assignments, stream instructional modules, and, in programs that utilize synchronous online instruction, receive live content in real time. Synchronous instruction refers to coursework that is streamed at a scheduled time, during which students must be logged on to a program’s LMS.
While some programs utilize synchronous instruction for lectures and class meetings, other programs rely on asynchronous instruction, a mode of online instruction that gives students the freedom to access pre-recorded lectures and other learning activities and materials at their convenience, 24-7. Asynchronous instruction affords more flexibility than synchronous instruction, but it provides less structure and requires students to apply greater amounts of self-discipline and self-motivation to ensure readings and class assignments are completed on time. Synchronous instruction is less flexible than asynchronous instruction as students must be able to attend live online classes, but it can provide students with a more structured online learning experience. Synchronous sessions are typically held in the early to late evening depending on the time zone in which the student lives.
Many online graduate certificate programs in health communication can be completed without having to attend any in-person campus-based sessions. However, some online programs require students to attend one or two campus visits for orientations sessions, workshops, seminars, and other activities that benefit from in-person instruction. These campus visits are generally short in duration and designed to accommodate students who work full time and students who have to travel from out-of-state in order to attend. Therefore, most programs that require campus residencies schedule them during the summer and they are typically held over a long weekend or a week that is scheduled well in advance so that students can plan accordingly.
Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified by GraduateCertificates.com as blended or hybrid programs and not as online programs. Blended and hybrid graduate certificate programs in health communication offer a mix of online and campus-based instruction, which represents a more convenient alternative to fully campus-based programs for students who live near the school offering the program. However, blended and hybrid programs may not be a practical option for students who do not live or work within commuting range of the school’s campus.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Health Communication
The programs detailed below are offered by accredited colleges and universities. They are meant to provide a representative overview of the types of graduate certificate programs in health communication that are currently offered in an online format.
Washington State University (WSU) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Health Communication and Promotion through WSU Online and the Murrow College of Communication. The 12-credit program consists of four graduate courses that can be completed 100% online without having to attend any campus visits. Two of the program’s courses are master’s-level communication courses that cover topics in multimedia content creation, crisis communications, professional ethics, and research methods. The other two courses cover the principles and practices of health communication in the digital age. The program is designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field of study. For more information on the program, visit WSU Online at online.wsu.edu.
Boston University’s (BU) Metropolitan College (MET) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Visual & Digital Health Communication program in conjunction with its online Master of Science (MS) in Health Communication degree. The certificate program is designed for students who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field of study. It consists of four courses that overlap with the master’s program for a total of 16 credits that can be transferred to the master’s degree if a student decides to pursue further graduate studies in health communication. The BU program, which focuses on the use of digital communication tools and platforms in healthcare marketing and public awareness campaigns, does not require students to attend any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit BU’s Metropolitan College at www.bu.edu/met/.
The State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY Stony Brook), which is also commonly known as Stony Brook University, offers an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Health Communication program that is jointly managed through its School of Journalism and its School of Medicine. The 18-credit program consists of six graduate courses, two of which overlap with Stony Brook Medicine’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program, and two of which were developed by the School of Journalism. Students can then choose from among a number of electives that cover special topics in public health and scientific writing and communication. The Stony Brook program accepts qualified applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field of study and the certificate does not require any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit Stony Brook Medicine’s Program in Public Health at publichealth.stonybrookmedicine.edu.
More Graduate Certificates in Health Communication
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