Jeremy VanderKnyff: Using Health Communication for Research and Practice
What do media arts, anthropology and health communication have in common? Everything, if you are Jeremy VanderKnyff, who obtained his Certificate of Graduate Study in Health Communication in 2011 and is currently working to complete a doctoral degree in Medical Anthropology.
“The certificate seemed like a great way to combine my interests and give me fresh perspectives for researching my dissertation topic – organ donation communication in South Carolina,” VanderKnyff said.
VanderKnyff is quite busy these days, as he works to complete his dissertation while holding a full-time job at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC). In fact, VanderKnyff was recently named SC DHEC’s Director of Performance Management in the Office of Health Policy and Performance Management.
At SC DHEC, VanderKnyff works with public health programs, regions and clinics to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of operations and service delivery.
“I used to think of health communication as being only about public health or healthcare professionals working with an external population,” he said. “I’ve come to learn that the lessons of health communication are just as applicable internally to the health system.”
VanderKnyff helps public health professionals organize their thinking by leading group processes, explaining data in understandable terms and working with opinion leaders.
“When I’m working with teams of public health professionals to improve their programs or services, I know that the best ideas for improvements—and the catalysts for positive change—always come from the people doing the work,” he said.
The courses offered through the Certificate of Graduate Study in Health Communication proved to be beneficial for VanderKnyff’s job, including searching for evidence-based best practices on sites like PubMed, facilitating diverse groups and analyzing the flow of information through an organization. VanderKnyff said one of the highlights of the program was exploring the issue of organ donation from a mass communications perspective in Dr. Andrea Tanner’s mass communication theory class.
“It gave me a brand new perspective on a topic that I thought I had studied backward and forward,” said VanderKnyff.
He also learned how to collect and analyze data methodically and to interpret it so that it yields understandable, meaningful conclusions.
“Learning how to do statistics and learning how to use statistics are two different animals entirely,” he said.
VanderKnyff became interested in the interactions among communication, culture and health while obtaining his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of South Carolina. VanderKnyff studied narrative, documentary and advertising film and video when he was an undergraduate student majoring in Media Arts. He then went on to acquire a Master’s degree in Medical Anthropology and a Certificate of Graduate Study in Visual Anthropology in 2009.
So, if you ask VanderKnyff how his three passions – media arts, anthropology and health communication – connect, he will tell you that they are all interrelated.
“Whether you’re a health communicator providing tools to help individuals eat right and exercise, or whether you’re in my position and providing tools to improve clinic operations, it’s still all about helping people work through barriers to positive behavior change.”