A new academic concentration at MTSU will help students promote greater understanding of health and health care.
Beginning in the fall 2020 semester, communication studies majors will have the option of pursuing a special concentration in health communication.
In addition to taking the core communication classes, students will learn about such issues as patient-provider communication, internal hospital communication and influencing behavior change for optimal health outcomes.
“How do we do something like normalizing wearing masks in public?” said Dr. Elizabeth Dalton, an assistant professor of communication studies. “How do we improve adherence to clinical recommendations or prescriptions? How do we improve telehealth delivery?”
While the curricula have been in the works long before the coronavirus began to dominate the headlines, the timing of the new concentration is beneficial in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a really critical time, and I think the role of communication is coming to the forefront … through this pandemic,” Dalton said. “There will be a lot that we learn from it.”
Privacy concerns about health information have been encoded into statutes, most notably in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. However, students will learn more than just how to avoid running afoul of the laws.
“Even without them, we do talk about how individuals need to operate under a certain moral and ethical code in terms of not just protecting the private information as required by law, but also by getting consent from your patient or client, depending on the field,” said Dr. Natalie Hoskins, an assistant professor of communication studies.
With professors from Western Carolina University, the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee, Dalton has been engaged in a study of how people experience and manage uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers are recruiting people age 18 or older to be interviewed about the sources of information related to the coronavirus that they have used, their thoughts about their uncertainties regarding that information and their behaviors pertaining to communication, personal relationships and information management.
“People really want to know what’s happening locally,” Dalton said. “They want to hear the numbers in their county and that’s going to drive their everyday decisions about going to the grocery store and going on a hike.”
Hoskins said, in addition to research possibilities, there will be opportunities to change the kinds of assignments students will be given.
“I’m really playing around with getting students to work with journaling this fall semester,” Hoskins said. “I think they’ll benefit from a course like Relationships in Health Communication, not just from a professional perspective, but from the point of view that they can actually personally benefit from the reflection on their own social relationships and their own personal health.”
Dalton and Hoskins say the curricula in the health communication concentration will be adaptable to online delivery and participation should developments in the COVID-19 pandemic warrant it.
The Department of Communication Studies is part of the College of Liberal Arts. For more information about the new concentration, contact Dalton at Elizabeth.Dalton@mtsu.edu or Hoskins at Natalie.Hoskins@mtsu.edu.
— Gina Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)