Conference brings attention to health research, collaboration


The first conference of its kind nationwide will be held at South Dakota State University on April 8 and 9.

The Health Communication Mini-Conference, sponsored by the National Communication Association, will serve as an opportunity for students, faculty and health care practitioners in the region to present and receive feedback on research, network and collaborate on their work in marketing, public relations and medicine as it relates to health care. 

“Health communication is a really big field today,” Rebecca Britt said, assistant professor of Journalism and Mass Communication and a planner of the conference. “It ranges across disciplines and is such an interdisciplinary field. The conference as a whole will represent that.”

The conference planners’ ultimate goal would be to have this event happen every year, rotating from location to location in the region. 

With the overwhelming amount of health communication research being done, Britt said an event is needed to highlight and support student work since that is where the interest starts.

There will be a panel of health communication practitioners, numerous panels with students presenting research papers and posters depicting student research, according to Jennifer Anderson, another conference planner and assistant professor of Communication Studies and Theatre.

“Health communication is absolutely a growing field,” Anderson said. “With the complexities of our health care system, an aging population with many health conditions and vast health disparities that exist across our population, the need for clear, compassionate communication across our health care experiences has never been greater.”

Because of this, medical professionals and those working in physical therapy, counseling and public health must have strong communication skills. Patients also need to have the right skills to communicate their needs, Anderson said.

“As a society, we need to understand how policies and social structures influence health outcomes and advocate for the changes we need to improve health in our communities,” Anderson said. “Each of these things requires an understanding of communication—how it works and how to make it work for you.

Anderson coordinates the health communication minor offered at SDSU, which has tripled in growth since it started in 2014. 

The minor is ideal for any students interested in health-related fields or who have an interest in health communication and relationships, she said.

“The minor is really focused on connecting health care practices and health outcomes with issues of communication, such as: patient-provider communication, health literacy, culture-centered communication, communication-based interventions and health advocacy through public communication,” Anderson said.

As students become more knowledgeable of health care practices, they also become more aware of the growing need for strong communication in the healthcare field. This includes senior nursing majors Caleb Schroer and Emily Blom. 

“Communication is key to being successful in any occupation in the healthcare field, not just nursing,” Schroer said. “Communication is vital for both interprofessional and patient communication.”

Schroer and Blom both said the conference will be a great opportunity for students planning to enter the healthcare field. 

“We are dedicated to being lifelong learners, and with communication being such a huge part of our profession, everyone could benefit from this conference,” Blom said.

She said health literacy and health advocacy are huge parts of the nursing profession, and that she feels the health communication minor would give students appropriate baseline knowledge of how to communicate and provide information to patients.

“I’m intrigued by the growth of the field of health communications,” Blom said. “I really do feel that communication is one of the largest parts of nursing, and many other professions, and finding ways to improve how we communicate with colleagues and for our patients is wonderful.”

Schroer said he’s excited the field of health communication is rapidly growing because it is so important in health care. 

“If students are taught more on communication throughout college, they will be better prepared for their future careers,” Schroer said.

The conference will be an important gateway to the many topics being studied in the health communication field, Britt said. The field is supported by those who do research. 

“That speaks to the effect that health communication has received such wide national recognition for its importance,” Britt said. “We didn’t have this event as students, so it’s nice to give back.”

The Health Communication Mini-Conference is free to the public.