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Health Communication celebrates 20th anniversary

An alumna who now works as a senior medical producer for NBC News is the keynote speaker for this week’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of Emerson’s Health Communication Graduate Program—the first health communication program created in the United States.


Ami Schmitz, MA '98, is a senior medical producer at NBC News, and will be the keynote speaker for the Health Communication program's 20th anniversary events September 19-20. (Courtesy Photo)

Ami Schmitz, MA ’98, directs production of health news for multiple NBC platforms, including Today, NBC Nightly News, and their websites; and she has produced investigative medical-related stories for Dateline and NBC News’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

The 20th anniversary events, scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, September 19–20, required registration, which closed earlier this week. Alumni and professionals from across the country will attend a networking breakfast and luncheon, as well as several workshops on current topics facing the health communication field, including, “Implications of Obamacare for Health Communicators,” and sessions on social media and health literacy.

Edgar“A few decades ago, we would just hand people information and expect them to change their behavior,” said Tim Edgar, associate professor and director of the Health Communication program, which is part of the School of Communication.

“Now, we know that’s not even close to what happens,” he said. “You have to do it much more strategically than handing them a pamphlet and putting a 30-second ad on TV. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, and online communities have become so important.”

The number of programs similar to Emerson’s Health Communication, which trains students on the most effective ways to communicate medical information to large groups of people, has grown to about 45 nationwide in the last two decades, according to Edgar.

“There’s been a tremendous recognition of the need for improved communication in the world of health and medicine,” Edgar said. “It’s primarily focused on how we use messages to communicate effectively about health, and much of it is aimed at behavior change.”

Also in attendance for the 20th anniversary will be Health Communication program founders Dr. Scott Ratzan, MA ’86, and Tufts Medical School professor emeritus Jim Hyde.

Emerson’s Health Communication program has operated in conjunction with Tufts since its inception in 1994. A third founder of the program was the late Dr. Norman Stearns, for whom Emerson’s Norman and Irma Mann Stearns Distinguished Faculty Award is named after.  

Ratzan spoke at Emerson in May about global health communication projects he is involved with as vice president of global corporate affairs for Anheuser-Busch InBev.

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