The CHER Grant: Supporting Research that Explores How Communication Impacts Health, Empathy, and Resilience

Center for Health Communication

The CHER Grant: Supporting Research that Explores How Communication Impacts Health, Empathy, and Resilience

By Stephanie Zeller

The business of medicine is fast-paced and grueling. We’ve all been there, waiting in a doctor’s office for nearly an hour, all for a ten-minute appointment. The doctor comes in and gives a quick analysis, followed by a rushed monologue about treatment options or whatever it may be. A shaking of hands, a signing of papers, and soon you’re walking out with a feeling similar to leaving a theater after a particularly intense Marvel film.

This is modern medicine, and though as an industry we have become very good at fixing matters of health, we seem to have left humanism in the dust. Healing is not merely about the technicalities of biology, it is about holistic care. This is what the founders of the new Dell Medical School believe and was a strong contributing factor in the creation of the Center for Health Communication’s (CHC) Communication for Health, Empathy, and Resilience grant program.

Launched in fall2017, the CHER program’s goal is to promote collaboration between Moody College of Communication and Dell Medical School faculty, staff, and students, and to encourage evidence-based research in health communication education and community involvement. Although they received an exciting number of proposals, the program awarded approximately $20,000 to three worthy research teams during the 2017-18 cycle. For more information about the inaugural grantees, visit the website here.

Beyond promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, the purpose of the CHER grant program is to encourage the use of empathetic communication to improve population health. “We aim to support research that explores how effective communication can support the delivery of quality healthcare,” said CHC Director and CHER co-founder Mike Mackert.

Dell Medical School Dean Dr. Clay Johnston has described the important role of communication as the next frontier in medicine.  In an article accepted for publication in Academic Medicine, Dean Johnston writes, “Communication, empathy, shared decision making, leadership, team building, and creativity are all skills that will continue to gain importance for physicians.”  The CHER grant provides support for researchers venturing into this new frontier. “The skills associated with effective caring—an array of communication skills—can be identified through validated measures,” Dean Johnston affirms.

“As a school that is rethinking health, rethinking research, rethinking care, we want to be at the cusp of that discovery which is, how can we use communication sciences more effectively in the day-to-day care of our patients?” said Dr. Anjum Khurshid, MD, PhD, and Director of Data Integration at Dell Medical School. In the end, he says, patient-provider interactions are really just narrative exchanges of information.

“We have probably not paid enough attention to communication sciences in healthcare,” said Khurshid. “In reality, most of healthcare is just about telling stories.”

Through the CHER grant program, researchers at Moody and Dell Med together will find ways to better tell these stories and to slowly shift healthcare away from a reactive, metric-bound mindset toward a mindset of empathy, preemptive care, and prevention.


The Center for Health Communication is as a joint academic center of both Moody College of Communication and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. It was established in 2014 to bring together researchers and experts from diverse backgrounds of health communication into one organizational unit where they can collaborate, share ideas and innovations, and advance their scholarship. It is an interdisciplinary group whose goal lies in improving health through evidence-based communication research, thereby advancing the health of people and populations.

About the Author

Stephanie Zeller is a rising senior at the University of Texas at Austin studying Public Relations in the Moody College of Communication, Studio Art in Fine Arts, and McCombs School of Business foundations certificate. Stephanie has a special interest in health, as well as in astronomy and biology and will begin to marry her varied interests during a public affairs internship with NASA in the summer of 2018. She hopes to build a career around writing and creating visual works to bridge what she views as an unnecessary gap between the arts and the sciences.