These are great days to be a public relations healthcare practitioner. It is one of the most vital sectors of the communications world and is only growing in scope and importance.
Since at least mid-twentieth century there have been established communications functions in healthcare companies. That may have been the lone man or woman giving patient condition reports in a hospital, or announcing a data milestone in a pharmaceutical company. Yet the function was minimalist at best and often reported to a head of HR.
In the past thirty years, public relations in healthcare has had a growth explosion and has evolved as a key management function of companies and a vital component of communications firms. Every global firm has an established healthcare practice, and there has been a proliferation of boutique firms specializing in healthcare. Kennedy Consulting and Research Advisory is estimating a growth of 5.3% per year for healthcare consulting firms, higher than any other sector.
There is a parallel growth in academia. Thirty years ago health communications did not exist as a specialty; now there are 50 graduate schools with degrees in health communications.
There are many factors that fueled this growth – scientific breakthroughs, the launch of blockbuster drugs, the rise of consumerism in healthcare – and communications professionals were key to giving voice to these developments.
I have witnessed this growth firsthand. My own career has spanned more than 25 years in healthcare communications. The importance of this function in the industry is now undisputed, and it will only grow in importance.
As amazing as the last 30 years have been, the best is yet ahead. The aging of the population, by 2015 more than 45% of the population will be over 50, will put an unprecedented demand on health products and services. The era of personalized medicine is bringing targeted therapies that will revolutionize our approach to treating disease. And in the next few years, the nation will navigate the complexities of the new reform law that has transformed the healthcare landscape.
Communicators are indispensible to helping make sense of it all. It has never been a better time to be in healthcare.
The Mississippi Hospital Association’s Career Center offers helpful insights and tips for individuals seeking healthcare careers. The center also provides this encouraging assessment of the future employment opportunities for health care public relations specialists: There is an expected increase of 21%-35% in the number of jobs that will become available over by 2012, a growth rate faster than other professions. The demand for good public relations personnel will increase because of the need to keep the public informed about a variety of issues that could affect their daily lives. Competition will be the greatest for entry-level public relations jobs because the number of qualified applicants is expected to exceed the number of job openings.
Public Relations Society of America’s Job Center also provides leads for jobs, including in healthcare.
Based in Washington, D.C., Nancy Hicks is Senior Vice President, Associate Director, North America Healthcare Practice for Ketchum.