Communication Courses in Canadian Graduate Programs in Health Promotion

Article excerpt

Health communication consists of broad strategies to improve the health of people and their communities. It is a technique or technology that influences individuals, populations and organizations to improve human and environmental health.1 As a discipline, health communication includes a variety of approaches including social marketing, media advocacy, informatics, risk communication and entertainment education. Health communication has application to the practice of public health2 and the development of public health policy.3,4

The purpose of this study was to provide information about formal courses in health communication offered through graduate programs in health promotion. Because no single discipline is responsible for building capacity in health promotion, training programs in nursing, health behaviour, public health science, community health, health education, epidemiology, and medicine were surveyed.


Universities that are members of the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada were identified through Internet web addresses. Each university site was searched to determine graduate programming in health-related fields (i.e., epidemiology, health behaviour, nursing, physical and health education, health care, public health sciences) and programming in medicine. Program information, obtained from the Internet, was examined in detail for course program listing and descriptions. We selected Internet-based materials because 1) university calendars may not be updated with the frequency of web-based materials, and 2) Internet materials have a wide reach for potential applicants to health promotion programs. Courses were identified as having a health communication focus if the title included one or more of the terms: health communication, informatics, entertainment communication, dissemination, interpersonal communication, social marketing, mass communication, patient provider communication/relationship, persuasive communication, risk communication, media advocacy or theories of communication. These key words have been used elsewhere for identifying essential components of health communication training.5 Cognate undergraduate or graduate programs in communication (e.g., communication studies, media studies, or journalism), but not linguistics or creative writing programs, were also identified in the search. Differences in number of health communication courses, language of instruction (English/French) and presence of cognate communication studies program were evaluated using Chi-square tests.


Table I indicates that of 67 programs identified at Canadian universities, fewer than 25% listed courses with communication content in the course title. There were fewer courses in health communication than expected by chance alone ((chi)^sup 2^ =135.910, p<0.001). The total number of health communication courses differed significantly by program language (English/French) ((chi)^sup 2^=16.46, p<0.02). There were proportionally more health communication courses available at French language programs in health promotion (54.5%, 6 of 11 programs) than in English language graduate programs in health promotion (17.9%, 10 of 56 programs). Of the 67 health-related programs examined, 32 listed cognate programming in journalism or communication studies and this distribution differed by language of instruction ((chi)^sup 2^=14.395, p<0.0001; 21 of 56 English language programs offered communication studies, 11 of 11 French language programs offered communication studies).

Table II shows the number of communication courses by content area and by language of instruction. The greatest number of communication courses in the surveyed programs were data management or "informatics" (n=8); the other substantive courses that were offered by more than one program were courses in "interpersonal" or "patient provider" communication (n=8).


The findings of this Internet survey suggest that within graduate programs in health promotion, formal coursework in health communication appears to be limited. …