Communication and healthcare: an intersection of professions and knowledge mobilization

The School of Professional Communication is active in the healthcare community – from students and faculty to alumni and beyond!

MPC alumna Brigitte Dreger Smylie (right.) supports biomedical ventures at the Ryerson BMZ

The healthcare industry is regarded as an established and imperative field. We rely on healthcare research and professionals to develop the remedies, formulas, and technologies that keep our physical and external environments operating at optimal capacity.

Although professional communication in Canada is still developing as a renowned vocation, the need to disseminate new healthcare and medical findings to both learned and laymen audiences has never been more essential. In today’s fast-paced, digital and downloadable age, messages surrounding healthcare – whether faced with a global pandemic or advocating for mental health – are pertinent and require a strategic approach to their communication.

The School of Professional Communication (ProCom) at Ryerson University has a history of active involvement in the healthcare community. From faculty research and student internships to communication projects and alumni careers, ProCom members have successfully integrated their expertise into medical practice, technology, and research at various levels.

ProCom faculty members boast publications and pursuits in genre theory and healthcare communications, nutrition and medical technology. Professor Catherine Schryer, Chair of the School of Professional Communication, has conducted extensive research focused on the discursive negotiation among healthcare professionals as well as the socialization of medical students. Following the release of her book Measured Meals: Nutrition in America (SUNY, 2009), ProCom’s Professor Jessica Mudry continues to expand her research on how caloric measurement has affected the qualitative experience and human enjoyment of eating.

Exploring medical technology, ProCom’s Professor Gregory Levey is co-founder of Figure 1: a photo sharing application connecting today’s generation of medical professionals. The software is a platform for registered medical professionals to subscribe, post, and share medical images. Figure 1’s innovative integration of healthcare and social media acts as a knowledge-sharing resource for users and qualified colleagues and is a prime example of how strategic communication combined with applied technology can enhance any field.

ProCom students have also found ways to integrate a passion for healthcare into their communication practice, with Master of Professional Communication (MPC) candidates carrying out internship placements at various healthcare institutions. As a required component of the graduate degree, students have the opportunity to intern within the industry of their choice. Past placements have included The Hospital for Sick Kids and St. Michael’s Hospital, while students in the current cohort are assisting medical institutions such as Rethink Breast Cancer and Trillium Health Partners.

MPC candidate and mental health activist Leanne Simpson is currently completing her internship with #sicknotweak, a charity organization that advocates for individuals coping with mental illness. As a graduate student who has battled with anxiety, Leanne’s passion for representation in mental health dialogue and education has led her to incorporate the topic into her assignments and Major Research Project (MRP).

“Fighting stigma, […] needs to actively involve our population or it’s meaningless,” says Leanne. “You can’t learn what an anxiety attack is like out of a textbook.” In preparing for her MRP, Leanne proposes the following hypothesis that perfectly intersects communication theory as it applies to healthcare today.

Current MPC student Leanne Simpson advocates for representation in mental health advocacy.
Current MPC student Leanne Simpson advocates for representation in mental health advocacy.

“Mental illness has been characterized as the inability to tell a coherent personal narrative,” she says. “My goal is to challenge the concept of a singular narrative in favour of a more fluid identity that incorporates my diagnosis without letting it define me. It’s very interesting because it involves journaling rather than coding.”

Leanne’s study follows a number of MRP topics that have been centred in the healthcare field. MPC students have highlighted internal hospital communications, healthcare promotion, and the visual narratives used by federal social media accounts during global pandemic crises.

ProCom partnerships in healthcare communication extend to many external affiliates, with MPC alumni moving on to communication roles with organizations such as Saint Elizabeth Healthcare, Cancer Care Ontario, the University Health Network (UHN), and the Ryerson Biomedical Zone (BMZ). MPC 2015 graduate Brigitte Dreger Smylie is Project Coordinator at the BMZ, a healthcare hub where she provides mentorship and support to up and coming biomedical ventures.

MPC alumnus Jacky Au Duong (right.) and ProCom Chair Catherine Schryer (left) work with CCK associates on healthcare communication projects.

Additional university endeavours include a dedicated ProCom branch that provides unique support for research groups, individuals, and organizations seeking to develop communication projects. The ProCom Centre for Communicating Knowledge (CCK) is facilitated by MPC 2014 alumnus Jacky Au Duong and supplies media, graphic, text and visual support for research groups, individuals, and healthcare organizations such as the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Amid faculty research, student experiences, alumni endeavours and research partnerships, ProCom continues to coincide with the medical and healthcare industries. Although diversified in discipline, the common thread of professional communication aligns with the healthcare profession, ensuring continued collaboration between both worlds.