Gripped by a global pandemic, individuals and societies are looking to public-health professionals for advice and guidance to flatten the curve. In an ongoing crisis, clear and consistent messaging is as important as the science behind it.
Health is not only an individual concern; it affects entire communities and ripples out to impact the economic and educational opportunities of an entire region. Public health professionals work to increase community health. Those who understand effective communication strategies are uniquely positioned to build trust and understanding across populations.
Beginning in Fall 2020, Stony Brook University will offer an advanced graduate certificate in health communication, designed to help graduate students and working professionals learn to effectively engage and empower communities to improve health knowledge and outcomes.
The program is offered jointly by the Stony Brook Program in Public Health and SBU’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science through the School of Journalism.
“This advanced graduate certificate allows students to join the community they are studying and work hand-in-hand with residents to share information and empower change,” said Dr. Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center. “Public health efforts require effective communication, and Stony Brook students will be exceptionally well prepared professionals.”
Public health is a growing field engaged in studying and working to improve the health of communities. The profession is more visible than ever before, as nations look for advice from experts. During calmer times, public health professionals examine systemic impacts on health. They study communities in food deserts, or with higher risks of certain diseases like diabetes and cancer, and work to engage the population to increase their understanding of these risks and what they can do to mitigate them.
“Public health professionals study a community, its influences, and the environment to understand impacts on individual health,” said Lisa A. Benz Scott, director and professor at the SBU Program in Public Health. “SBU public health students have a unique opportunity to translate their knowledge in ways that make it effective, relevant, and engaging to inspire good health practices and, if necessary, motivate change.”
The advanced graduate certificate will help health professionals learn to design and deliver messages that will help empower a community to make decisions and act in its own best interest, overcoming obstacles and designing systems of improvement.
The program is informed by the Alda Center’s unique mode of communication training, which blends improvisational theater exercises with message-design strategies to help communicators better understand and craft messages directly relevant to their audiences. The center offers professional development communication trainings for researchers and healthcare professionals, with the aim of helping them to share the significance of their work with other researchers, policymakers, members of the media, students, and the general public.
“This program is a natural outgrowth of our work training healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Brenda MacArthur, assistant professor of practice at the Alda Center. “Health is more than the doctor-patient relationship, and healthcare professionals working outside hospitals and labs need to be able to share information and reach out to communities in ways that help those groups to understand how their environment affects their health and quality of life.”
The 18-credit certificate program can be completed in as little as one year. Courses are available online and in person, to accommodate the needs and schedules of graduate students and working professionals. It can be completed as a stand-alone credential.