Teaching public health practitioners about health communication: the MPH curriculum experience

L Hoffman-Goetz, S Dwiggins
Journal of Community Health 1998, 23 (2): 127-35
The dissemination of health information to the public often occurs through the mass media. Media strategies as a component of behavior change assume knowledge of communication theories and methods by public health practitioners. We surveyed the curricula of 52 accredited graduate programs leading to the Master's in Public Health (MPH) degree to assess their communication component. Graduate bulletins for admission year 1996 were examined for public health mission statement, goals and objectives of the MPH training program, and for course titles. Courses were identified as having a communication focus if the terms communication, information, marketing or media were used in the title. There were a total of 82 communication courses offered, with 65 courses in 26 Schools of Public Health (SPH), 13 courses in 18 Community Health and Preventive Medicine departments (CHPM), and 4 courses in 8 Community Health Education departments (CHE). The difference in mean number of health communication courses was significant by type of MPH program (p < 0.003) with SPH offering an average of 3 courses, CHPM departments offering an average of 1 course, and CHE offering an average of 0.5 course. The distribution of communication courses ranged from 10 courses to 0 courses per program. Seven SPH offered 3 or more communication courses, whereas 5 SPH offered no health communication courses in the MPH curriculum. These data point to a shortcoming in the training of MPH students in health communication theory and skills as ascertained by course titles in graduate bulletins.

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