Parvanta and her colleagues, Drs. David Nelson and Richard Harner, wrote the book “Public Health Communication Critical Tools and Strategies,” for doctoral and master’s students to complement the Essential Public Health series published by Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Published in 2018, it discusses what future practitioners should know when communicating about health, and prepares students for entry level positions in public health, health communication, health promotion, social marketing and community health education.
“What’s different about our book is that we devote several chapters to communicating about data, which is where most practitioners begin their careers,” Parvanta said. “How do you report science? How do you transform numbers into information for the public, for policy makers, or even for health care practitioners? That’s the foundation. We also cover health literacy and, of course, behavior change communication.”
Parvanta said the book also provides the background students need to create a communication strategy step-by-step, and shows how this varies when doing policy and advocacy, patient-provider communication, and emergency communication.
“If the only communication book you owned was this one, you could still do a lot of public health communication,” she said. “It’s written at a higher level, but it’s practical.”
Parvanta said she felt like a museum curator during the process of writing the book, noting and collecting exemplary health communication from public health practitioners working in the field.
“It was fun to see something just breaking at a conference, contact the author and ask if they would be willing to provide it [as an example],” she said.
The book has more than 10 chapter contributors and at least 15 case study contributors.
“So many people contributed to this book,” she said. “This is a real Who’s Who for both academia and private sector communication. You’re getting a lot of great resources here.”
Parvanta, who also serves as director of the Florida Prevention Research Center, previously headed the Division of Health Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helping the agency expand its emergency communication capacity following the 9/11 attacks, anthrax and SARS.
She’s also worked with the Los Angeles Public Health Foundation WIC program as their consulting anthropologist and with Porter/Novelli, a leading social marketing company.
She said her prior work experiences helped in writing this book.
“I’m an anthropologist, I never formally studied health communication,” Parvanta said. “Everything I learned was on the job. I think it makes me a really good student of the subject because I learned from the best at USAID, NCI, Porter/Novelli, and CDC—where my boss was a leading health communication researcher, Vicki Freimuth. Learning how to learn about health communication gives me an appreciation of what students might find difficult to understand. It also doesn’t hurt that my daughter, Sara Parvanta, went on to get her PhD in Health Communication at the Annenberg School at U Penn. I learned a lot from her, as well.”
She acknowledges social marketing is her guiding star in health communication.
“Social marketing is using everything we know about commercial marketing and applying it to socially beneficial issues,” she said. “Communication is one tool of social marketing, but it is a power tool.”
Parvanta said her public health passion has always been helping people develop culturally appropriate ways of living healthier lives.
“Don’t try to impose an intervention on people,” she said. “You have to really understand and respect them and get their input to design something that is appropriate for them. That’s the anthropologist in me talking, but it’s also the soul of social marketing.”
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health