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Creating Communication Campaigns at the Montana Summer Institute

NWCPHP staff Missie Thurston and Barbara Rose designed and led the three day course which emphasized core strategies for planning and implementing health communication campaigns at the Montana Summer Institute.

NWCPHP staff Missie Thurston and Barbara Rose designed and led the three day course which emphasized core strategies for planning and implementing health communication campaigns at the Montana Summer Institute.

July 31, 2012

Visitors flock to Montana for its vast, open spaces and the chance to get away from the crowds. Being one of the largest yet least populated states is an asset when attracting tourists, but it also creates unique challenges for the state's public health workforce.

Bill Hodges, Director of Big Horn County Public Health, and his two staff cover a service area of 5,000 square miles. Kari Jo Kiff, Public Health Nurse and Director of Meagher County Health Department, and her three staff cover more than 2,000 square miles.

Hodges and Kiff joined their colleagues at the 2012 Montana Summer Institute for Public Health Practice to discuss how communications strategy could help address health issues in the face of resource scarcity and remoteness. Karla Thompson of Valley County Health Department explained the need for communication training among Montana’s public health workers, “We have small staffs so we wear many hats. We often do communications by default in an emergency, but we want to be more proactive about messaging the daily role of public health to our communities.”

Gayle Shirley of Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department echoed that statement. “We have to be more strategic and creative about our messaging. A news release just won’t cut it anymore.”

NWCPHP staff Missie Thurston and Barbara Rose designed and led the three day course which emphasized core strategies for planning and implementing health communication campaigns.

"Health departments in Montana, like elsewhere in the US, are facing increased demands amidst decreasing resources. This makes it even more important to provide practical tools to enable the workforce to communicate more effectively and more efficiently," said Thurston. "Communication is an essential activity for success."

Participants brought their communication challenges to the class and had the opportunity to receive individualized feedback on their projects. The challenges were varied and included: messaging the national accreditation process to communities, messaging the role of public health to legislators and decision-makers, and messaging the need for breast cancer, lead, perinatal Hepatitis B, and HIV screening to clinical providers and families. Participants also learned about the importance of using “new media” like Facebook, Twitter, and texting to deliver public health messages.

These new technologies are important to Kiff whose community lacks many formal media channels. She explained, “We are often affected by water contamination issues and need to let people know when to boil their drinking water. Communicating this health message is a challenge because we have no local TV or radio and the paper only comes out weekly. This class helped me consider new ways to message the issue through the local bank’s electronic sign, Facebook, and community leaders.”

Participants also practiced writing success stories to demonstrate public health's positive impact in the community. Molly Molitor, Jefferson County Health Department Clinic Coordinator, shared her success story with the class using humor and poetry to describe a strategy her health department used to protect against sexually transmitted diseases after community events.

After the course, participants crossed the vast terrain back to their respective health departments armed with new skills in marketing, graphic design, and story development. They will use these tools to stay connected with one another and with their communities to message the role of public health agencies throughout the state.

Slideshow: Click on a small image to see a larger version.

  • MTSI 2012 01
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MTSI 2012 01

NWCPHP's Barbara Rose teaching at the Montana Summer Institute.

MTSI 2012 02

Walking around the bike-friendly Bozeman streets.

MTSI 2012 03

NWCPHP's Barbara Rose and Missie Thurston at the Hyalite Reservoir.

MTSI 2012 04

NWCPHP's Missie Thurston teaching at the Montana Summer Institute.

MTSI 2012 05

The train toward sunset in Bozeman.

MTSI 2012 06

View toward the mountains in Bozeman.

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