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NNU’s New Health Communication Program in Demand


NNU’s New Health Communication Program in Demand


As COVID-19 hit American soil, the need for strong and clear communication became increasingly evident. Suddenly, the news was filled with media members and medical professionals trying to explain a new, ever-changing pandemic, often leading to chaos and confusion. Debates quickly sprang up about the difference between a pandemic and epidemic and the strategies of health departments were quickly put under a microscope as they worked to disseminate rapidly evolving information efficiently.


Communication from medical professionals to the general public can often be clouded and misinterpreted as attempts are made to understand the complexities of the industry if not handled well. This is why Northwest Nazarene University’s new health communication program is so critical.


“Effective communication is essential to any type of healthy relationship and this certainly holds true when speaking to healthcare providers or about health issues with both medical and non-medical members of our society. This pandemic has shone a spotlight on the need for clarity and careful attention to health messages and health education,” said Dr. Donna Allen, Department of Communication Arts and Science chair.


NNU launched the Bachelor of Science in Health Communication program in 2019 and will have its first graduating class this spring. Senior Moises Martinez will be the first graduate of the program. Martinez is also working toward a Biology/Pre-med major and believes the Health Communication program will be be beneficial for his career.


“Biology has always been my biggest calling, but I also appreciate and acknowledge the great significance of communication in life,” Martinez said. “The health communication degree [will] help me be a better physician.”


This major prepares graduates for entry-level work or for graduate studies in health communication fields. It is designed for students with an interest in health but not wanting to be providers, for those looking for places to advocate for others, and for those wishing to go on in careers or graduate school in public health, health administration, health communication or community health.


“We have taken an interdisciplinary approach in creating our Health Communication major,” Allen said. “Although communication courses will provide a core of study, including a research sequence leading to a self-directed health communication project and a series of public relations courses, students will also take courses delivered by departments of biology, business, kinesiology, nursing and psychology.”


Martinez is immersing himself in some of these courses. He says his favorite class so far has been his Public Relations Writing course.


“I had only taken other communication science-oriented courses, like nonverbal communication and interpersonal communication,” he said. “I really enjoyed my PR Writing course because of how it further improved my writing skills — and PR skills in general.”


Dr. Stephanie Tomlinson was Martinez’s professor in his PR Writing class.


"This course focuses on helping students to think strategically about how to communicate in ways that build mutually beneficial relationships with others,” Tomlinson said. “This will be essential for health communication professionals as they strive to communicate effectively with health providers, media partners, patients and the larger community — among others."


In addition to courses like Tomlinson’s, students will learn research and statistics and be equipped with knowledge about nutrition, health, human anatomy and healthcare contexts.


“This is a major that is growing as the number of jobs in this area is projected to grow by at least 11 percent between 2018 and 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Allen said. “We want NNU's program to equip students to be creative and redemptive in these important healthcare roles and to be prepared for graduate programs in Health Communication or Public Health if they choose to continue on.”


To learn more about the Health Communication program visit nnu.edu/healthcomm.