By Shannon Bullen
As a Media Communications and Public Health student, I am often met with puzzled looks when asked what I am studying. “What do they have to do with each other?” people ask, looking more confused than a chameleon in a bag of smarties. Well, rapid changes due to the growth of new technology and social media means opportunities for communicators abound across many industries. One such industry currently experiencing a period of growth in Australia is the Health sector. Within that sector, the field of Health Communication has emerged as a particular specialisation to address the need for effective communication strategies aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of society.
So, what exactly is the field of Health Communication?
As the Harvard School of Public Health describes, Health Communication involves how health information and effective health messages are developed and disseminated through broadcast, print and/or digital media. Guiding the practice is how these messages impact individuals, communities, and institutions and shape discourse in policy, research and clinical practice. An important aspect is the strategic communication of evidence-based health information to audiences that are both professional and non-professional.
What can a Health Communication career offer you?
Health communication specialists experience a wide range of employment opportunities in diverse sectors from government, public or private companies to non-profit organisations such as the Heart Foundation. Within Health and allied sectors, there is opportunity for a large amount of career mobility as health communication roles can encompass marketing, public relations and journalism. Professionals may work as communication, policy or media advisors, strategic or digital communications specialists or public relations managers to name just a few options. Meanwhile, as health and technology converge and digitally enabled healthcare and services proliferate, media and technologically savvy individuals are needed to navigate this dynamic new space.
Why does the Health industry need competent communicators?
The mass media and social media platforms have been both a gift and a curse to the Health sector. On one hand, it has provided the opportunity for Communications professionals to work toward overcoming the current gap in health literacy and health communication. As health messages abound however, spreading quality information in the era of “fake news” is, and will continue to be, a challenge. This is compounded by a current climate of scepticism and distrust toward authoritarian bodies (yet total faith in Dr. Google!) This trend is apparent in the current My Health Record debacle as iterated in Tony Jacque’s Mumbrella article on the need for trust in communication. Communication specialists have a key role in cutting through misinformation to better inform the public. In future, good technical writers will be super important to transpose scientific information to lay terms that the average person can easily understand. What’s more, social media is proving to be a powerful tool for audience engagement in the Health arena. The QLD Health Facebook page is an example of how humour, emojis and memes can be successfully employed to communicate important health information. Communicators proficient in social media then, will be well placed to work in this space.
So, when you don that cap and gown and take a look around at your options, perhaps the Health industry is a niche you may consider. You will have your finger on the pulse (bad pun intended) when it comes to diverse employment opportunities that will equip you with highly transferable skills and great career mobility. Plus, you can feel smug in the knowledge that you are working in a space that holds health and humanity at its heart.