Brice Jansen, ’22
Using Social Media to Improve Health and Policy Communications
There is hardly a more helpless feeling than standing on the side of the road, waiting for an ambulance to come.
Unfortunately, this feeling of helplessness is something that I and many others in my rural community—located 35 miles from the nearest healthcare provider—frequently experienced. From hour-long ambulance wait times to 911 lines that didn’t pick up, I witnessed the impacts of an inherently unequal health infrastructure on rural communities. These experiences led to my early interest in community health, especially alleviating disparities in rural health.
At Stanford, I was able to explore these interests through coursework and in practice. I had my first brush with the Haas Center for Public Service when I signed up for a Cardinal Quarter during the summer of my sophomore year. I partnered with the United Way of Southeast Missouri to conduct research and craft communications about local public health challenges. The following year, I was invited to scale the skills I learned with United Way through an internship at the U.S. Department of State.
During 10 weeks at the State Department, I was responsible for creating health and foreign policy-centered content for their flagship social media accounts, particularly through Twitter and Instagram Stories. I also collaborated with my team to craft and disseminate social content on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines for both domestic and foreign audiences. This work spurred my interest in the growing role of social media in community health information dissemination, especially within quickly evolving health landscapes.
However, it is not the collaborative work environment, conversations with foreign leaders, or gratification of seeing my content get published for which I am most grateful. Working on social media in the public sector taught me how to leverage the power of the internet from a place of both transparency and reciprocity, using the two-way communication pathways that social media allows between a governing body and its citizens to craft more equitable and inclusive content.
Though my public service work at the State Department occurred at a global scale, the important lessons I learned—humility, accountability, preparation, reciprocity—are skills that easily translate to my more immediate career goals.
My plan now is to focus on how we can use technology and online social networks to approach public health communications in a more effective way. Which communication strategies resonate? Which do not? How can the social internet help us identify, target, and disseminate this information? I also want to transfer what I learned from my COVID-era health communications experience to chronic disease prevention, including how to design, deliver, and communicate about prevention-based health programs that are both socially relevant and broadly accessible to rural communities.
Though rooted in service, my interest in community health remains deeply personal. My community and many rural communities like it continue to experience health disparities, with many of these challenges manifesting in the highly divided social, ecological, and political landscapes of today. I am grateful that I got to use my Cardinal Quarter experience to address these challenges and design health communication strategies that meaningfully involve the communities they impact.