New health communication major to help address ‘a huge mess’ in U.S.

Darren D'Altorio

KSU hopes initiative will increase enrollment

As the health care field grows amid an aging population, the demand for health care professions is on the rise.

Traditionally, the field of nursing has maintained the spotlight as the industry expands.

But a new area of health care that marries the knowledge of health with theories of human communication is gaining momentum: health communication.

Kent State will be at the forefront of this field come fall, training professionals under its new Health Communication Initiative in the College of Communication and Information.

“Health communication is a huge mess in this country,” said Stan Wearden, director of the School of Communication Studies. “No one is training people to be communication experts in this field.”

Little comprehensive training exists in the area of health communication as it’s relatively new in the American professional landscape.

There are many “uncharted waters” in the field, said Rebecca Cline, senior scientist at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and newly hired professor of Communication Studies at Kent State next fall.

Cline will be one of three new professors developing the Health Communication Initiative at Kent State. She wrote more than 60 articles and chapters in books and conducted extensive research in multiple areas of the field, from media messages and peer pressure to unplanned messages with health implications, like commercials, people encounter every day.

Cline said people unintentionally limit health communication to doctor-patient interaction or educational materials. But those, though extensively explored by researchers, are only “small parts” of the health messages people encounter daily.

Provost Robert Frank launched an initiative to make Kent State a formidable presence in the health care industry, said Nichole Egbert, associate professor of communication studies.

“For Northeast Ohio, there is nothing like this,” Wearden said. “And there is a real need for it. This will put us in a handful of universities nationwide that have health communication programs.”

Wearden said the initiative will increase enrollment and establish visibility in the health care industry.

He said the program will allow for cutting-edge research funding because health communication is a “hot grant funding area.”

Along with Cline, Ohio State University graduate Catherine Goodall will head the initiative as an assistant professor of communication studies.

Goodall’s specialty is the media. More specifically, she focuses on how health messages communicated in the media impact people.

After they arrive at Kent State in the fall, Cline and Goodall will focus on developing grant proposals and a master’s degree curriculum for health communication.

The third professor for the Health Communication Initiative will be hired this fall.

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].