2019 HCLI Highlights

Highlights from the 5th Annual Health Communication Leadership Institute

By Jessica Hughes Wagner

Fearless. Risk Taker. Creative. Empathetic. Great listener.

We asked participants at this summer’s Health Communication Leadership Institute (HCLI) to tell us the essential qualities of a health communication leader. Our record-breaking number of participants had a wide range of ideas of what it takes, though the overlapping insight was clear: you will get far as a leader if you are willing to take risks - even small, incremental risks. And you’ll get even farther if you invite your stakeholders and your community members into the process and really, truly listen to them.

Introductions on day one of the three-day conference set the tone for an energetic, productive fifth annual HCLI. We meet folks from a wide range of organizations, including the Ad Council, de Beaumont Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite, Youth Rise Texas, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some participants were repeat learner-leaders, while the majority were first-timers. We hosted speakers from academia, private industry, non-profits, and governmental sectors, all in the hopes of creating a learning experience from which our diverse suite of participants could glean learnings.

Per tradition, HCLI began with an ‘applied improv’ session to warm up bodies and brains. The session was co-led by CHC affiliate and retired physician Dr. Rob Milman and improv coach Shana Merlin. The duo led a series of out-of-your-seat activities that had people sharpening their non-verbal communication skills, finding common ground with new colleagues, embracing an “Oh well, I failed” growth mindset, and revisiting the age-old pastime of rock-paper-scissors.

We work hard to create an agenda with the just-right mix of health communication best practices and leadership building. Some session highlights:

  • Dr. Brenda Berkelaar led the group through their personalized results from the Leadership Practices Inventory, with participants giving critical thought to how frequent they perform leadership behaviors and creating realistic action plans for when they return to posts back home.
  • Kat Jones from the Dell Medical School’s Design Institute for Health told us stories about helping build the Livestrong brand and how design thinking and systems thinking will change public health for the better.
  • A presentation from the founding CHC director Dr. Jay Bernhardt outlined some of the best health communication campaigns of all time, and what it takes for health comm campaigns to succeed in the real world.
  • I co-presented with CHC’s Director (and my boss!) Mike Mackert on what we’ve learned so far about co-leading interdisciplinary teams. We talked about how we came to our own health comm leadership roles, and how we are building our mission-focused dream team.
  • A group case study activity from real-world “client” MD Anderson challenged participants apply learnings from the Institute in real-time.
  • Closing speaker Dr. Jewell Mullen, Associate Dean for Health Equity at Dell Medical School, entertained facilitator and audience questions on what our roles are in advancing diversity, inclusion, and health equity efforts in our own organization.

Year after year as we close out a great week at HCLI, our team reflects on what we think makes HCLI a valuable experience. The high-quality curriculum hits the high notes of both health communication and leadership best practices, honing in on some timely topics in both fields, but – importantly – creating space for individualized application to each participant’s leadership role. We also bring value in our role as a network-maker for health communication leaders in Texas and well beyond.

The majority of participants hear about HCLI from a colleague or person who has attended before. Word-of-mouth is our most powerful tool to tell other mid-career health communication professionals about HCLI. We hope you’ll tell your colleagues about us; we would love to host them next year.  

To stay in touch with the Center for Health Communication and stay posted about future HCLIs, sign up for our mailing list.


group improve session
rock paper scissors improv session
case study presentation at 2019 HCLI
2019 HCLI event attendees
case study presentations
HCLI 2019 Jewel Mullen and Michael Mackert