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Mary Zmuda: Using Health Communication to Promote Health among BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Employees

Mary Zmuda, Employee Wellness Coordinator at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina (BlueCross), strives to create a healthier culture for all employees using her background in health communication.

Zmuda completed the Certificate of Graduate Study in Health Communication and received a Masters in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior from the University of South Carolina (USC) in December 2012. She also obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from USC in May 2010. Her work includes planning, implementing, communicating and evaluating new and existing wellness programs for BlueCross employees, such as health screenings, nutrition education and physical activity challenges. She also implements healthy policies, including the company’s “smoke-free campus” and cafeteria nutrition guidelines.

“My job is basically to make the employees healthier!” said Zmuda.

Health communication is a large part of Zmuda’s job. She uses communication strategies such as emails, posters, video clips, presentations and website content to effectively reach the many diverse groups of BlueCross employees.

“BlueCross employees are spread across multiple states so having effective communication channels is a must,” said Zmuda.

Zmuda decided to pursue USC’s Graduate Certificate in Health Communication because she discovered through internships and work experiences that developing and delivering effective communication messages is a key component in the success of a health intervention or wellness program.

“Sadly, I also found that many professionals in the health field did not demonstrate knowledge or skills specifically in communication,” she said.

Zmuda said she wanted to take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the Graduate Certificate in Health Communication to gain expertise and to be more successful in her career of helping others achieve their health goals.

While taking classes, Zmuda said she learned about the different types and styles of communication, the importance of knowing your audience and tailoring messages, and knowing how and where to look for credible health information.

“Getting the chance to interact and learn from students and teachers in the field of journalism and library sciences, in addition to public health, was an opportunity I never would have been able to have if I had not been part of the health communication program,” said Zmuda.

Zmuda admitted that, at first, she was uncertain about taking a course in Library Sciences, but that it turned out to be a beneficial part of her education.

“Expanding my learning on where to find and how to identify credible information sources, tips for making information sources more appealing, and having so many opportunities to interact with the other students in the class who all came from very different backgrounds and had such diverse interests resulted in an invaluable learning experience,” she said.

Zmuda’s practicum project, which is required in order to complete the Graduate Certificate in Health Communication, also proved to have important health outcomes for BlueCross BlueShield employees. Zmuda developed a video clip and supplemental brochure for the BlueCross New Hire Orientation process so that newly hired BlueCross employees could receive information about the wellness programs available to them. Through evaluation, she found that communicating this information to employees at a time when they are first introduced to the company was effective in increasing participation in the wellness programs.

“The Graduate Certificate in Health Communication has and will continue to benefit both my personal and professional abilities tremendously,” she said.