Strengthening Health Communication Education in Canada: A Call to Action

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Nov 2023

This research underscores the importance of enhancing health communication education in Canadian MPH programs to ensure graduates are equipped to tackle modern and complex public health challenges.  

Competency-based public health education is essential for ensuring that practitioners can positively impact the health of the public. In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has identified communication as a critical competency area for practitioners. Health communication is essential to all aspects of and roles within public health. However, a recent study funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research has shown there is a significant lack of Canadian public health graduate education focused on communication competencies.

Health Communication: A Vital Aspect of Public Health Education

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Effective communication is at the heart of effective public health practice. Health communication is a multidisciplinary field incorporating principles from health education, crisis and risk communication, social marketing, public relations, and many others. Knowledge mobilization is a complementary and related field, where research knowledge is transformed into policy, practice, and programming. Ultimately, practitioners use health communication and knowledge mobilization to provide communities with health information that is easily understood and reflective of their needs and values, so it can be acted upon.

Health Communication Gaps in Canadian Master of Public Health (MPH) Programs

The research conducted shows a clear need for more health communication education across the 19 Canadian universities that offer MPH programs. Less than half of MPH programs in Canada offer health communication courses, and these courses are only mandatory in four of the programs. Knowledge mobilization courses are offered by less than half of universities and none are mandatory. Keywords related to health communication and knowledge mobilization were found in significantly more public health courses offered by MPH programs; however, health communication was not the focus of these courses. This indicates a significant deficiency in training in this vital competency area for Canadian MPH graduates.

Actions to Strengthen Communication Competencies

  1. Course Expansion: MPH programs should consider expanding their offerings of health communication and knowledge mobilization courses to build competencies in these areas. Programs should consider making health communication courses mandatory within their MPH programs.
  2. Faculty Expertise: Ensure faculty members with expertise in health communication are embedded in MPH program delivery to enhance the quality of education in this area.
  3. Regular Curriculum Reviews: Given the evolving and complex nature of public health challenges, MPH programs should conduct regular curriculum reviews to ensure alignment with current competencies and public health needs.

This research highlights the need for a renewed focus on health communication in Canadian MPH programs. By addressing these gaps, public health graduates will contribute to a strengthened workforce that is well-prepared to address modern and complex public health challenges, including mis- and dis-information. It is imperative that we prioritize health communication as a cornerstone of public health education.


Melissa MacKay, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on trust and crisis and risk communication, competencies for public health, and social media health communication.

Yan Li is a recent Master of Science graduate from the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include health communication, health education and knowledge mobilization.

Andrew Papadopoulos, PhD, is a Professor and Coordinator, MPH at the University of Guelph. Much of his research focuses on public health policy and administration, risk communication, student wellness, and the organization and delivery of public health education. Dr. Papadopoulos has over 35 years of public health experience.

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