Professional Resource Brief

This brief is one in a series compiled by the National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health staff to assist the Title V work force in improving their knowledge and skills related to maternal and child health competencies. This collection of selected websites, materials, and trainings offers high-quality information about MCH Leadership Competency 5: Communication.

Definition. Communication is the verbal, nonverbal, and written sharing of information. The communication process consists of a sender who encodes and presents the message and the receiver(s) who receives and decodes the message. Communication involves both the message (what is being said) and the delivery method (how the message is presented).

Skillful communication is the ability to convey information to and receive information from others effectively and is a foundation of MCH practice, policy, and research. It includes the essential components of attentive listening and clarity in writing or speaking. An understanding of the impact of culture and disability on communication between MCH professionals and the individuals, families, and populations that they serve is also important.1

Note. Consider not only listening, speaking, and writing but also the impact of place (built environment) on communication. This brief is NOT intended to be a comprehensive resource but highlights the variety of approaches, the diverse populations, and the innovations used to advance communication in MCH.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Gateway to Health Communication & Social Marketing Practice provides basic information about health communication and tools and templates for developing health communication and social marketing campaigns and programs.

  • CDC HealthCommWorks toolkits are designed to help health professionals craft and defend effective health behavior change messages, develop a strategy for using social media, and create an effective evaluation strategy. Contents include information about the purpose, intended audience, use, and recommended system specifications.
  • Community Health Media Center (CHMC) is a collection of free and low-cost, audience-tested advertising and support materials produced by state and local health departments, nonprofit organizations, and federal agencies. These materials are designed to create awareness about obesity and other chronic conditions and to promote healthy living.
  • National Prevention Information Network (NPIN): Health Communication Strategies [Beta] provides resources on strategic planning, research and evaluation, and methods such as advertising, entertainment education, interventions, media advocacy, media literacy, partnership development, public relations, social and health marketing, and social media. Resources on language and literacy including easy-to-read materials, interpretation, and health literacy; and health communication journals are also provided. Health Literacy and Communication provides tools and resources created by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion to help health care facilities, health care professionals, and other professionals effectively communicate with health care consumers. Contents include the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy and the Health Literate Care Model. Resources about designing health literate mobile apps, hosting a Twitter chat, and writing and designing health websites are also included.

Health Information Group at Georgetown University: New Media Primer for Health Professionals provides information and resources on using social media in public health settings. Topics include interactive web, streaming media, mobile web, community building tools, interactive work/collaboration tools, and enhanced search tools. Definitions and examples are included. This program is available for continuing education credits. [Funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau].

Health Resources and Services Administration. Effective Communication Tools for Healthcare Professionals (formerly Unified Health Communication) provides free, online, go-at-your-own-pace training that has helped more than 4,000 health care professionals and students improve patient-provider communication. Courses are available to improve user's ability to communicate with patients and overcome barriers preventing them from getting the full benefit of quality care.

National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO): Communications provides information for local health departments (LHDs) on effective communications including examples of successful LHD-led public health campaigns. Resources on communications planning, media outreach, community engagement, branding, communications workforce, and social media are also included.

National Cancer Institute (NCI), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch: HINTS–Health Information National Trends Survey provides information and resources from a national survey dedicated to learning how people find, use, and understand health information. Topics include health communication and patient-provider communication.

National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health (NCEMCH) has developed materials for health professionals communicate in a more direct, culturally competent manner:

  • Health Literacy Professional Resource Brief. This resource offers materials on health literacy and its importance to health outcomes.
  • Translation Toolkit for Health Professionals. This toolkit offers best practices and standards for language translation, plain language and health literacy guidelines, links to glossaries and medical dictionaries, access to materials in other languages, and information on translation services and resources.

National Institutes of Health: Clear Communication provides information, training, and resources about health literacy, plain language, quality and effectiveness in health communication, cultural competency, language access, talking to your doctor, and research.

  • Plain Language Online Training Modules are designed to assist individuals in building plain language writing skills. Topics include how people read, concise writing, clarity, format, organizing ideas, choosing words, and tone. Exercises, resources, and examples to reinforce the concepts presented are included.
  • Plain Language: Getting Started or Brushing Up consists of five sections and a checklist you can print. In each section, you will find a number of cards you can flip through to learn about using plain language in your work. When you are done with the final section, you can print a certificate of completion.

National Public Health Information Coalition. Toolkits serves as a one-stop shop for communication toolkits on specific public health topics. Some of these toolkits have been developed by NPHIC in partnership with the CDC. Others have been developed by state health departments.

Toastmasters International provides resources and opportunities for improving public speaking skills including tips on becoming a confident public speaker; a self-paced, experiential learning program; and mentoring.

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus: Understanding Medical Words–A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine provides instruction on how to use medical terminology in communicating with population groups, patients, and the media.

U.S. Office of Minority Health: Think Cultural Health–Guide to Providing Effective Communication and Language Assistance Services provides strategies tailored to health care professionals (those who provide direct care and services) with information on cross-cultural communication skills, working with an interpreter, and more. Also provides strategies tailored to health care administrators and executives who work across a broad spectrum of health care organizations including information on planning, implementing, and evaluating effective communication and language assistance services.

University of Washington Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS): Program for Readability in Science & Medicine (PRISM) is a plain language tutorial created for researchers.

Materials from NCEMCH's MCH Knowledge Base

Advocacy & Communication Solutions with ZERO TO THREE. 2015. Infant and toddler messaging guide. Washington, DC: Zero To Three. 24 pp.

American Public Health Association and Qorvis Communications. 2012. Communicating public health preparedness media and message guide. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. 19 pp.

Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 2010. Communicating effectively about vaccines: New communication resources for health officials. Arlington, VA: Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 28 pp.

Carroll L, Vickers M. 2013. Translating life course messages into family-friendly language. Albuquerque, NM: Family Voices, IMPACT. 1 p.

Fischhoff B, Brewer NT, Downs JS, eds. 2011. Communicating risks and benefits: An evidence-based user's guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 234 pp.

Joint Commission. 2011. Advancing effective communication, cultural competence, and patient- and family-centered care for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community: A field guide. Oakbrook Terrace, IL: Joint Commission. 92 pp

Kaiser Permanente. 2014. [Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation] SBAR toolkit. Oakland, CA: Kaiser Permanente. multiple items.

Lowe JI. 2010. A new way to talk about the social determinants of health. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 35 pp.

Mathematica Policy Research and Public Health Institute. 2015. Promoting maternal and child health through health text messaging: An evaluation of the Text4baby program—Final report. Rockville, MD: U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. 73 pp.

McCormack L, Sheridan S, Lewis M, Boudewyns V, Melvin CL, Kistler C, Lux LJ, Cullen K, Lohr KN. 2013. Communication and dissemination strategies to facilitate the use of health-related evidence. Rockville, MD: U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 520 pp.

National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. [2013]. Speaking education's language: A guide for public health professionals working in the education sector. Atlanta, GA: National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. 21 pp.

National Council on Disability. 2014. Effective communications for people with disabilities: Before, during, and after emergencies. Washington, DC: National Council on Disability. 197 pp.

National Public Health Information Coalition. 2014. Ethnic media outreach guide for public health communicators: Practical advice for working with media on important public health issues. Marietta, GA: National Public Health Information Coalition. 4 pp.

U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. 2014. Using health text messages to improve consumer health knowledge, behaviors, and outcomes: An environmental scan. Rockville, MD: U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. 34 pp.

Suggest materials for the MCH Knowledge Base.

Trainings from the MCH Navigator

Communicating Public Health: Message Design Strategies to Promote Awareness and Action to Address Social Determinants of Health. Date Developed: 4/22/2015. Source: Region 2 Public Health Training Center. Presenter(s): Jeff Niederdeppe. Type: Video Lecture. Level: Intermediate. Length: 58 minutes.

Communications Messaging: How & Why. Date Developed: Unkown. Source: CityMatCH. Presenter(s): Adam Shapiro. Format: Webinar Archive. Length: 21 minutes.

Culture & Health Literacy: Case Studies in Culture and Health Literacy.  Date Developed: Unknown. Source: Midwest Center for Life-Long-Learning in Public Health. Presenter(s): n.a.. Type: Webcast. Level: Introductory. Length: 60 minutes.

Storytelling as Best Practice. Date Developed: 2/1/2012. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Presenter(s): Andy Goodman. Format: Webinar Archive. Length: 70 minutes.

Strategies for Successful Public Health Messaging. Date Developed: 2/19/2013. Source: Northwest Center for Public Health Practice. Presenter(s): Tim Church; James Apa. Format: Webinar Archive. Length: 60 minutes.

For more learning opportunities on communication, use this Automated Search on the MCH Navigator training catalog.


1 MCH Leadership Competencies.


Author: Jolene Bertness, MEd, CHES, NCEMCH
Reviewers: Olivia Pickett, MLS, MA, Rochelle Mayer, EdD, John Richards, MA, Keisha Watson, PhD, NCEMCH
October 2015