College of Communication & Education

The Benefits of Studying Health Communication

doctors standing together

When it comes to the field of communications, health communications doesn’t always come to mind. However, like any growing industry, the health and medical industry has an increasing need for communication professionals.

Jennifer Malkowski, Graduate Coordinator for Communication Studies at Chico State, has a background in studying the public reception of medical professionalism and the effect communications has on how medical information is processed and received. 

For her, communication shapes how people go about their lives. When it comes to healthcare, how information is communicated to patients and their families can have a drastic impact on their wellbeing and livelihood.

“We all have these very intimate connections to healthcare spaces,” Malkowski said. “(Healthcare) really brings out beautiful parts of humanity, as well as chaos, which needs to be managed.”

The need for the management of health communications has opened up a world of new possibilities for professionals who want to work in healthcare without a medical degree. Marketing directors, crisis communication specialists, or media experts are just a few of the roles that are now sought after by healthcare organizations. 

At Chico State, students can study health communications through the Communication Studies program and develop the skills they may need to pursue a career in health communications.

The Intro to Health Communications course (CMST 360), which Malkowski previously taught, is becoming a popular first step for students wanting to learn more about the larger role medical organizations play in day-to-day life. 

“The expertise that (this course) brings to the table is how communication impacts the status of health at the individual and collective levels,” Malkowski adds. 

Susan Avanzino, a long-time faculty member of the Communication Studies Program, now teaches the introductory course as well as a 400 level health communications research course (CMST 459). As a professor with decades of experience, she brings a wealth of knowledge to the classroom. 

For over 14 years, Avanzino has partnered with Enloe hospital, studying the hospital’s growth over time. Through improved communications and organizational transformation, the hospital has worked their way to becoming one of the top 250 best-rated hospitals in the country.

“Understanding health is critical, whether it's our health or caring for others,” Avanzino says. “Literally, your physiological and mental health can be impacted by your health literacy and your health skill set. We bring that communicative lens to the health realm through these courses.” 

Through the introductory course, students are encouraged to consider how healthcare affects every individual. The course focuses on the importance of health communication. According to Avanzino, effective communication can save time, money, and even lives and wise use of social media can help inform the public and encourage community support. 

In the 400-level course, Applied Research in Health Communication (CMST 460), students get the chance to research special topics, gather data, and put their research to use. 

“One student did their study on college males and mental health,” Avanzino said. “They went and interviewed the only male therapist in the counseling center out of fifteen counselors…They realized that there was really something that could happen here at Chico State, like a men's Resource Center, and they felt they had an impact on their campus community.” 

Both Avanzino and Malkowski hope to expand the Communication Studies program’s health communications offerings in time. The benefits of the two courses have not only helped students launch their careers, but also understand their own health journeys. 

“The whole medical community is not only eager, but required, now, to take the communication disciplines more seriously,” Malkowski adds. “There's a real need in and around healthcare for courses like this.”

Students interested in taking CMST 360 this fall as an elective or for class credit may email Susan Avanzino ( or Jennifer Malkowski ( The research course, CMST 460, will be offered during the spring.