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Discover the fundamental role of language in health communication

Discover the power of language to change the world

“The words of a President matter, no matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” President-Elect Biden's speech on violence at the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2021.

Enter into a dialogue

Having a good conversation has become more difficult in the current, increasingly polarized, social and political climate. But looking at a problem through the eyes of another, thus entering into a dialogue, is essential to overcome differences and create an inclusive society. This master track provides you with the theoretical means to understand the role of language and communication in health-related contexts, as well as with the skills to promote dialogue and critically reflect on its outcome.

“We’re going to have to find ways to rebuild both a common narrative and a fidelity to truth.” Former US-president Barack Obama (2020)

Understanding language use in everyday life

The programme starts with laying a sound theoretical foundation for understanding language use in everyday and institutional contexts. You, for example, learn to analyse how treatment options are negotiated between doctors and patients, how neonatal care is discussed with parents, and how anti-vaccine movements operate on social media.

Uniquely, the connection with professional practice is already built during the study programme itself. Your academic internship is set up in close collaboration with health organisations in the field. And in some courses, your fellow students are professionals who already work in the field.

There is a great demand for academically trained dialogue or conversation specialists in the health area, in their role of independent consultants, researchers, facilitators, mediation experts or patient educators. Especially where scientific expertise is at stake or citizen participation of great importance, insight is required into how to create and sustain a fruitful dialogue between government and citizen, or between professionals and patients or clients. Think of health institutes such as the Dutch RIVM, Ministries for Health, but also pharmaceutical industry, hospitals, hospices, addiction care, international NGOs and the WHO. 

The study programme

The programme starts with providing a general theoretical basis. With the course Communication Design in Society, you will acquire specialised knowledge of communication theories with a language focus and learn how to apply them to different modes of communication such as blogs, Twitter, debates and dialogue.

A key course is Dialogue for Health, in which you learn to analyse real-life interactions, ranging from a dietetic consult to public debates on the health effects of environmental pollution. You will critically reflect on these analyses with the help of dialogue theories: What makes a conversation a dialogue? What are the terms and conditions for dialogue? Guest lecturers such as a medical philosopher and historian will provide an interdisciplinary angle, and practitioners will show the pitfalls of conducting a dialogue in practice.

In period 2 you will enhance your analytic skills and apply the method of conversation analysis to Medical and Healthcare Interactions. You will learn about and reflect on issues such as: How do doctors deliver bad news? Can patients negotiate treatment decisions? And to what extent do models of shared decision making correspond with practice?

You will be able to choose an elective from a range of courses in the study guide. Electives give you an opportunity to put dialogue practices in a broader societal, organizational or historical perspective. Examples are:

Period 3 marks the transition from theory to practice: you will start your first Internship, followed by a second internship in period 4. In the same period, Health Communication and Social Media will teach you about the use of Instagram, vlogs, blogs and so-called chatbots and conversational agents which advise people about their health and support their decision-making process.

You will conclude your study with a Thesis. Read more about the internships and your thesis below.

You will find the study programme in our course overview (pdf).

Dialogue, Health and Society courses:

  • Communication Design in Society
  • Dialogue for Health
  • Medical and Health Care Interactions
  • Elective(s)
  • Internship 1: Facilitating Dialogue
  • Internship 2: Applied Research Project
  • Health Communication and Social Media
  • Thesis

The start date of this programme is September 1st

Internship

In Internship Part 1 – Facilitating Dialogue - you learn about and practise methods for facilitating actual dialogue. You will be trained to design, support, monitor and evaluate dialogue practices. The programme is unique in offering a direct connection with professional practice.  Each and every student will work within an organisational environment - for example a hospital, the WHO, UNICEF, Public Health institutes such as the Dutch RIVM or patient organisations – in which s/he can practise and apply dialogue skills. 

In Internship Part 2, the Applied Research Project, the student will set up and conduct a small study on a self-chosen topic, with both an academic supervisor on research methods, and a supervisor from a health organisation. Already in period 4, you start preparing your Thesis, in which you may use data from the same organisation as you did your internship with, but not necessarily so.

Master's thesis

Already in period 4, you start preparing your thesis, in which you may use data from the same organisation as you did your internship with, but not necessarily so. 

Your thesis may focus on a broad array of health-related topics, as long as your research is grounded in the analysis of real-life interactions. For example, think of:

  • understanding and facilitating the interaction between doctors, caregivers and patients about palliative care in hospitals or nursing homes
  • designing an online COVID-19 vaccination campaign for adolescents, including its theoretical foundations
  • preparing and evaluating public dialogue on the health effects of livestock farming, between farmers, government and local residents. 

Change your future with the Dialogue, Health and Society programme

Change your future with the Dialogue, Health and Society programme

On completing this Master’s programme you will be able to work in a wide range of health-oriented public and private organisations. As a graduate with a theoretically grounded understanding of healthcare communication and practical experience gained during the internships, you will be able to work as a facilitator of dialogue and mediation practices and conduct research or advisory activities.

Explore your future prospects
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Questions about the programme?

Send an email to prof. Hedwig te Molder or contact dr. Joyce Lamerichs: