Although it’s not her specialty, Linda Laine has roots in the health care field. For her dissertation, she completed an ethnographic study of hospital nurses, and she’s been teaching the communication section of a hospice training course in Pella. During her sabbatical this past fall, Laine designed a course on health communication. “The field deals with the interaction between people and message production surrounding all areas of health and illness,” she says.
The field of health communication is rich, dealing with issues from the public to the very personal. On the macro level, the field envelopes public health campaigns, which educate about health issues and strive to convince people to do certain things—like wearing a helmet while riding a bike, receiving vaccines and staying home when sick.
Another aspect of the field is how health and illness are portrayed in the media—both journalism and entertainment. Laine has been keeping abreast of the national conversation about health. “Just since I’ve been doing this, I can’t believe how many popular films have come out that deal with issues of illness,” she says. “We’re being educated on health through our entertainment.”
Health communications also encompasses smaller niches, such as the power structure of health care organizations like hospitals. Laine learned that often, when a medical mistake is made, another person in the room is aware of what’s happening. But they often feel like they can’t challenge their superior by speaking up.
The area of health communication that most concerns Central students is the interaction between patient and caregiver. Since many students go on to become health care professionals—doctors, physical therapists, physicians assistants—Laine thinks this aspect of the course will be especially important.
Laine says the course will cut across all subfields of health communication. She hopes the class will attract students from all majors—especially those considering a career in health care. But she can see that a communications major interested in doing public relations for a hospital would want to learn more about public health campaigns. Thus, Laine will give each student the chance to delve deeper into one area they’re most interested in.
While designing the course, Laine has spent hours reading, taking notes and brainstorming. “This was the first sabbatical I’ve ever had,” she says, “and I wasn’t preparing for how energizing and stimulating it is. I feel like I’ve been able to return to that space of being a student again.”