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Hendrika Meischke: The Science of Communicating Clearly

NWCPHP faculty member Hendrika Meischke PhD, MPH, studies health communication interventions and is the scientific lead for all research activities at NWCPHP.
Hendrika Meischke: The Science of Communicating Clearly

Hendrika Meischke (second from left) enjoys a walk in Magnuson Park with her husband, sister, and mother.

NWCPHP faculty member Hendrika Meischke PhD, MPH, studies health communication interventions and is the scientific lead for all research activities at NWCPHP.

April 2, 2014

When NWCPHP faculty member Hendrika Meischke first moved from the Netherlands to Wisconsin for college, she remembers the shock of going from an urban Dutch environment to a rural American environment. She had learned English in high school, but it was still a big change.

"In those days you couldn't really call home because it was terribly expensive," she said. "The only thing I ever got was a weekly letter from my father, on that little blue paper. They looked like museum pieces."

As a self-proclaimed "exchange student who never went back," Hendrika fell in love with academics and research while studying at the University of Wisconsin. After receiving her BS in Sociology, Hendrika went on to obtain a MPH from the University of Michigan and a PhD in Mass Communication from Michigan State University.

At NWCPHP, many of Hendrika's communication projects have focused on improving emergency preparedness and response with vulnerable populations, such as those with limited English proficiency. Recently, her work has turned to the responder side and looks at health and safety issues for 911 dispatchers and EMS workers.

"I'm not the kind of person with one niche; I'm all over the map," she said. "Since communication is everywhere, you can study it in many different forms. I love studying the processes and looking at how communication can be used to improve health. Recently I've become interested in workplace issues. When I sit at my computer for eight hours, I feel very sore and stiff, and it brings home how our professions directly affect our health. I'd like to help people not just deal with their lifestyles but also with their occupation, and find ways to make work a little easier to do physically and emotionally."

In addition to her role as a researcher, Hendrika also serves as the scientific lead for the center, helping to ensure all research projects correspond to NWCPHP's mission, vision, and resources. She spends quite a bit of time writing and submitting grant proposals.

"I don't watch much TV, but my favorite shows are reality shows," says Hendrika. "I love Project Runway because it resonates with the whole grant writing process. The same things matter: you have to be creative, have a wow factor, and work with crazy time constraints. It's a Tim Gunn 'make it work' moment. And of course you're either in or you're out."

Hendrika Meischke at 2013 Partner SymposiumWhen she's not at NWCPHP—contributing from the research end—Hendrika mentors students and faculty and currently teaches health communication, promotion, and theory development courses in the University of Washington's COPHP and eMPH programs.

Her teaching and research work often go hand in hand.

"That's the beauty of actually doing projects," she said. "I can use them in the classroom as illustrations. Additionally, when you teach, you're forced to stay in touch with what's currently going on in that field. My teaching very often informs where I'm going with my research. It is very synergistic."

Her upcoming projects include an undergraduate health communication course for winter 2015. Additionally, Hendrika and NWCPHP faculty Susan Allan, MD, JD, MPH, are developing a curriculum for a future undergraduate leadership course.

Hendrika is also working with the King County EMS division, Public Health - Seattle & King County, fire departments, community-based organizations and the University of Washington on a collaborative project called the Vulnerable Population Strategic Initiative (VPSI). The goal of VPSI is to "conduct programmatic, scientific and case-based evaluations to ensure that the interface between EMS and vulnerable populations is of highest quality." This initiative will connect students with current work being done in King County, Washington, and provide practitioners in the field with help implementing and evaluating their efforts.

"The interface between EMS and the public is fascinating, and there are many opportunities for program development, research projects, and service-learning opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students," Hendrika said. "I am very excited about the possibilities this initiative offers me personally and our public health students."

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