Communication Hosts Conference Inviting Top Minds in Health Communication

Communication Hosts Conference Inviting Top Minds in Health Communication
(L-R) Department Chair Dr. Anne Nicotera with staff members Megan Edmondson, Maria Carabelli, and Brittany Sanders.

The Department of Communication at George Mason University provides a rigorous academic experience for students with opportunities to network with top minds in the discipline. The D.C. Health Communication Conference (DCHC), organized by the department and the Center for Health and Risk Communication, recently brought graduate students, as well as early to senior level scholars, together to hear about the latest research and advancements within the field through panels and roundtable discussions. This year’s theme was international and global health communication research.

Over the course of three days, the more than 200 attendees were invited to participate in a grant writing boot camp with National Institute of Health officers and grant writing professionals, attend numerous panels on current health communication research, and view poster presentations by senior and junior level scholars, as well as graduate students from more than 100 institutions. Dr. Anne Nicotera led the planning process as chair of the DCHC Planning Committee. “DCHC has become one of the most important conferences in the field of health communication,” she said. “Putting it together takes a group effort of our department’s faculty, staff, and graduate students. Everyone pitches in.”

For graduate students, like Mason communication graduate student Lane Schwager, the conference was an opportunity to take an active role in facilitating discussions on pressing issues in health communication.  “One of the important parts of academia is doing service for the community, so it’s making sure that not only are you disseminating information, but that you’re actively participating in the cultivation of it,” said Schwager. “One of the best ways that we can do that is through these types of conventions where you get these great minds together and get to talk about interesting topics.”

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One of those great minds in attendance was keynote speaker Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, who currently leads Learning and Capacity Building for the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies program. She is responsible for supporting governments and other stakeholders across the world to create a ready, willing, and able workforce to manage health emergencies. Her address focused on the growing complications within health care locally and internationally and how to translate research into policy and action.

“This conference attracts people from different disciplines,” Dr. Gamhewage said. “You can see in the audience that everyone has a different take, a different perspective, a different discipline. Though my lecture was short, it can stimulate different ideas in different people.”

The conference was first started by the University of Kentucky to look at drug abuse prevention and communication strategies, expanding in 1992 as the biennial Kentucky Conference on Health Communication (KCHC) with a goal to provide a place for health communicators to come together and share new research and ideas. In 2011, Dr. Gary Kreps created a partnership with the University of Kentucky to host the off years at George Mason University, allowing the conference to happen annually. Dr. Kreps chaired the DCHC planning committee through 2015.

Dr. Nancy Harrington, professor of communication and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky, has been a part of the conference since its inception and said it’s fantastic to see how the conference has evolved.

“One of the most rewarding things I’ve seen is graduate students who attended previously and have since earned their degrees, come back as professors with their graduate students,” she said.

Schwager added “from a strategic standpoint it’s great to be at the ground level of something this size. We’re able to have these intimate moments where, especially early scholars and graduate students, get to have these one-on-one conversations with leading people in the field which is really cool and something that doesn’t normally happen at larger conferences. 

The next conference will take place April 2 – 4, 2020 at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Nicotera would like to say a special thank you to Maria Carabelli and Brittany Sanders for all of their hard work in the planning and the execution of the conference. In her words, you both are “rock stars.”