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Oct 23, 2013 09:54 AM EDT

First Undergraduate Degree Program in Health and Risk Communication Introduced At Ashland University

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Ashland University has introduced the nation's first undergraduate degree program in health and risk communication. The program focuses on two of the fastest growing industries in the world: health and safety.

"What we're doing here at Ashland is truly unique because it is the only undergraduate health and risk communication program in the U.S.," Dr. Theodore Avtgis, chair and professor in the Department of Communication Studies, said in a press release. "People interested in health and safety careers will gain the necessary skills to effectively message to publics who are vulnerable, at risk or in crisis situations. These skills sets are critical in modern day society and as natural and man-made crises will continue to occur, effective messaging is critical to keeping the public and organizations safe."

The new undergraduate degree program opens up different career opportunities for students such as health communication specialist, risk manager, director of communication and public affairs, communication project specialist, security specialist, director of external affairs, health communication training and development officer and safety training.

"We are addressing today's job market demands with tomorrow's skill sets. Health and risk communication is a hybrid of two separate areas in the discipline of communication studies," Avtgis said. "Health communication deals with the interpersonal aspects of patient-provider interaction, the team aspects of healthcare delivery as well as the development and execution of healthcare campaigns. Risk communication is a separate entity that deals with the identification of potential threats, the addressing of current threats or crises, and eventually, threat containment and threat mitigation."

Dr. Dariela Rodriguez, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, said that in the past health and risk communication were considered as separate areas of study. However, post 9/11 environment, academicians  realized that health and safety are intricately linked.

"Employment projections by the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a 24 percent growth in demand over the next five years in the communication studies field and our program will be set up to allow for internships ranging from local government agencies to pharmaceutical companies." Avtgis said.

Dr. Dawn Weber, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, stressing the importance of this new major at Ashland University said that graduates will be equipped with necessary skills and training to make sure that the public is well informed about a crisis. Communication professionals play a vital role in providing accurate information to the public. The quality of information along with the speed at which it is delivered can make a difference in the survival of patients during unforeseen incidents such as the recent Boston marathon bombings.

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