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Healthy Dialogue

There is one thing Dr. Zachary White is unlikely to be cured of soon - his interest in health communication.

            That's a good thing for the Knight School of Communication.  White first became interested in communication issues around caregivers and caring for the chronically ill while getting his PhD. His mother's illness prompted a shift in his research interests; graduate level offerings at Queens such as "Mediated Construction of Health" are the result.

            The course has also led to presentation opportunities for graduate students at the Workplace Flexibility Forum, hosted by WorkFlex Partners and Queens. Laura Tillistrand presented on the paradox of attempting to "have it all", , Stacey Randall examined the important role of women in the workforce and their many responsibilities, and Jennifer Hull discussed the opportunities to use digital spaces to offer social support during health crises.

Knowing there might be an opportunity to present her research findings from the course, Hull said she found herself trying "to find more ways to make it practical" and asking herself "how can this actually help people?"

            Finding real-life applications of academic research is "one of the strongest aspects" of the Knight School, said White, the graduate program's interim director.  The school's students can be "vital in contributing to that ongoing dialogue."

            White presented to the forum's audience of caregivers and HR professionals on difficulties facing employees communicating caregiver responsibilities at work. He asked, "Why does it still constitute something to be withheld rather than disclosed."

            Caring for the chronically ill is an important area of research.  After all, 50 percent of the population is expected by 2020 to either be chronically ill or caring for someone who is, White said.  There are likely to be some helpful findings coming out of White's upcoming summer graduate course on social support and disclosure of medical issues in the workplace.  As the boundary between work and private life blurs, White and his students are left with the pressing question: "How do we communicate about our private lives in a way that is meaningful, responsible, and connects us to the people that we spend the greatest amount of our time with?"

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