(This post sponsored by the University of St. Thomas)

A guest post by Dr. Mike Porter, APR

Health care represents one of the most rapidly-changing industries in the world – every month reveals new products, advances in medical research, regulatory changes, and increased costs for insurance. In response to this, a couple of years ago leaders at the University of St. Thomas posed a question: Is there a need for a specialized business communication degree focused on health care?

To answer the question, focus groups and individual interviews were conducted with nearly 100 senior level communicators at dozens of health care firms in the Twin Cities, representing all avenues of the space. The consensus was unanimous: health care communicators would significantly benefit the industry by gaining foundational understanding of health care management, culture, policy and law.  Two additional enhancements that gained similar embrace were business acumen, particularly marketing, and basic anatomy and physiology.

With these perspectives in mind, the Opus College of Business at St. Thomas developed the Master of Science in Health Care Communication. This program launched its first cohort in the fall of 2015 and students have been pleased with the results. You can listen to them describe their experience in the program here.

In addition to encompassing all the important health care issues identified by the market, the program also includes courses to enhance strategic communication abilities and writing. Most importantly, to allow working students to engage and learn with flexibility, the one-year program is delivered in a blended format – meeting on campus about once a month on a Saturday, with the rest of the experience being delivered online.

Student, mentor and employer feedback for the first cohort of Health Care Communication program has been more than encouraging. In addition to a number of the students getting new jobs or promotions, all have been given opportunities to work on real world projects that would have been out of reach when they started the program. The leaders that guide them have expressed how much the industry knowledge gained has impacted the work students are doing.

As this first cohort graduates this month, the thing that stands out to me is how much the students learned about the businesses of other cohort members.  In reading peer reviews of writing projects for the course I teach, the level of understanding of each other’s work was evident in how each student made suggestions to others on editing.

This means that the exposure to ideas and experiences of classmates contributes directly to the abilities of students to contribute to provider issues, for instance, even though the person may work at a device firm. This represents real value and transferrable skills, which are what a graduate program needs to deliver.