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The CHC in 2020

By Mike Mackert, PhD

Looking back on 2020, this is certainly not the year we could have imagined around the Center for Health Communication (CHC). The importance of effectively communicating about health has seldom been so clear, and the CHC had many accomplishments to celebrate even amidst the uncertainty and challenges this year presented.

The CHC enjoyed many successes in our work that we can certainly look back on with pride. The Father's Playbook mobile app publicly launched for both Android and iPhones as a way to get expectant fathers engaged in prenatal health. Our Health Communication Leadership Institute (HCLI) in June shifted online for the first time in its history, and we had a successful event with the most participants we have ever hosted. We were involved in work to help UT prepare for the partial campus opening this fall, exploring messages that could help promote health for all students, staff, and faculty; that work was published in Health Communication. A new statewide project to prevent opioid misuse in Texas launched as part of the Texas Targeted Opioid Response. We continued to support MD Anderson’s Eliminate Tobacco Use initiative with a refreshed and interactive website and new campus communication resources.  And we logged so many other successes – big and small – alongside our partners at the Texas Department of State Health Services, University of Texas System, Texas Tech Health Science Center – El Paso, Texas Oral Health Coalition, The UT Office of the Vice President for Research, The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and others.

I also appreciated work from our team to revise our organizational values and put a particular emphasis on health equity. People often get into health communication due to an interest in promoting health equity through communication, but that does not mean we always think about it as consciously and consistently as we could and should. We have already started to incorporate equity more explicitly into different processes, such as the evaluation of CHC pilot grant programs. We are also exploring tools to be used in our programmatic work that could be used in all of our projects to ensure we are putting equity at the center of our work. It will be an ongoing process, but I’m proud of what we have already done and looking forward to sustaining that effort.

Finally, I have to recognize what a remarkable job the entire CHC team did coming together to work together and support each other as we shifted to virtual work in March and carried on through the entire year. As much as we all miss seeing each other in the office and being able to have quick hallway conversations, I’m incredibly grateful for the way our team quickly adopted new tools for virtual collaboration and the grace they exhibited as we have navigated uncharted waters.

As we look ahead to 2021, a particular new focus will be on education – we will be designing and launching new online education programming for a variety of learners. We also will continue to pursue existing work with all of our research and programmatic partners, as well as exploring new partnerships and opportunities to use evidence-based health communication to help promote better outcomes for those on campus, across the state of Texas, and beyond.