By Roxanne Simonnet
When the Communication department rolled out its new Health Communication emphasis last fall, students welcomed it with open arms. Almost immediately after its announcement, students were jumping at the chance to be involved. So why is everyone so excited about this program?
One word: opportunity. This new emphasis was added to allow students to tap into the rapidly growing job market in the health industry. Recent data from the Department of Labor shows nearly one in every four jobs created in 2016 was in healthcare. Dr. Phillip Clampitt, chair of the Communication department, worked to bring this new emphasis to the university largely for this reason. “Number one, the population of the United States is aging. So, as people age, they will require more health care. Secondly, you can just drive around the community and see where all the construction is. It’s all in health care. Third, health care issues are complex. The language is technical. The systems are complicated and messy. Communication professionals can provide the bridge between the patient and health care community,” he said. He feels confident about the job outlook for students because the emphasis provides “a really strong link to the job market in the community…this gives [students] a real niche in a growing area. It’s just a huge opportunity.”
This tremendous growth is something students are aware of as well. Emily Vorpagel is a senior communication student currently looking for jobs in anticipation of her graduation in May. Vorpagel added a Health Communication emphasis to her studies her senior year, even though she was already enrolled in three other emphases. Having always been interested in health care, Vorpagel immediately saw value in the new emphasis. “Health communication is something that is going to be around forever…organizations are always dealing with health concerns,” she says. After graduation, Vorpagel hopes to find a job that combines her multiple emphases so she can help close the communication gap between physicians and patients.
Vorpagel is not the only student with plans to use the skills she learned in health communication to further her career. Dennis Debeck, like Vorpagel, has combined the new emphasis with studies in three other emphases. Debeck hopes to use the skills he has learned to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other under-the-radar causes. He sees health communication as a window into the future of the industry. “I really like that it’s taking a look at the future of the communication field…that’s exciting.”
Dr. Katie Turkiewicz joined the Communication department here at UWGB to advise and teach the new courses. Having quickly become one the most respected and well-liked professors on campus, Dr. Turkiewicz is happy to share her wealth of knowledge to help students capitalize on the opportunities offered by this applied area of study. She says, “Health communication is a really important area of study or a really important emphasis area, because it’s all about bridging the gap between health information and health literacy, and it takes a strategic communication expert to bridge that gap.” She also mentioned the job potential, as she believes there is a deficit in professionals with this specific skill set.
In addition to growth in the health industry specifically, the field of communication is also growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected communication occupations to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, creating approximately 27,400 new jobs during that span. This makes communication and health the perfect combination for soon-to-be graduates with an interest in this area.
The possibilities for jobs are virtually endless. According to the Public Relations Society of America website, a degree in health communication can take young professionals to a variety of health related environments, including “hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), psychiatric facilities and community health centers.” This range of possibility is why Dr. Clampitt described the addition of this new emphasis as a “no-brainer” and a “slam-dunk”.
How do you know if this emphasis is right for you? Dr. Turkiewicz said the program is a great area for anyone interested in health and wellness to explore. While the emphasis is challenging, students feel that it’s worth the work. Debeck said that while a lot of time and effort goes into the health communication courses, “it’s satisfying at the end of the day.” Vorpagel would encourage any Communication student to combine this new emphasis with one of the other emphases in the department. When asked what she would tell other students considering it, “definitely go for it!” she says. “I’m so, so glad that they offered it before I was able to graduate.”
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