Start main page content

Health Communication Research Unit (HCRU)

The HCRU, based in the School of Human and Community Development at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), is a multidisciplinary research group concerned with the unique challenges of multilingual and intercultural communication in the South African healthcare context. The late Prof. Claire Penn started the Unit in the early 2000s.

The main goal of the Unit is to apply methods from the social sciences and linguistics to investigate communication practices across healthcare domains and sites, with a view to influencing theory, formulating recommendations for policy and practice and developing and implementing site-specific communication training programmes. The Unit is driven by an implementation research paradigm. Given the country’s disease burden and the evidence of our research, there is now an excellent opportunity to put such research findings into practice.

Areas of Interest
  • Communicable diseases (e.g. TB, HIV)
  • Non-communicable diseases (e.g. diabetes, stroke, hypertension, genetics)
  • Adherence and medicine taking behaviours
  • Interactions between healthcare workers and patients
  • Emergency medicine (e.g. emergency call services)
  • Informed consent in clinical trials
  • Communication training for healthcare teams
  • Interpreting practices
  • Cultural beliefs and understanding of diseases
What we offer
  • Regular journal club meetings
  • Data analysis sessions
  • Workshops and lectures by visiting scholars
  • Mentoring and capacity building of junior researchers
  • Research supervision for postgraduate students working in the field
  • Supervision and co-supervision of postgraduates across disciplines
  • Communication training for healthcare teams and patients
  • A meeting space / research ‘lab’ for collaborative work, data sessions, etc.
  • Data corpus (available for secondary analysis)
  • Library of health communication resources
Recent publications
  • 2017 HCRU Annual Report

  • Claire Penn & Jennifer Watermeyer (2018). Communicating Across Cultures and Languages in the Health Care Setting: Voices of Care

Get in touch

We welcome enquiries about MA and PhD studies in this field.

Please have a look at our publications to get a feel for the kind of work that we do. Our approach to health communication is primarily a sociolinguistic one. Our work does not include media studies or public health campaigns.

We do not officially offer an MA or PhD programme in Health Communication, although we are available to supervise PhD topics that align with our expertise. Usually students would register for a postgraduate degree in their primary discipline, and we are willing to supervise across disciplines.

Information about the PhD application process is available here.

Contact or