Heather J. Carmack, PhD

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Communication and Patient Safety

My first love is communicating about patient safety. Grounded in a personal loss as the result of a medical error, I am drawn to understand how different stakeholders talk about medical errors...or in many cases, don't talk about it.  Providers and administrators are more likely to frame these discussions in the positive, talking about "cultures of patient safety" and initiatives designed to improve patient care.  We need to talk about the positives, negatives, and how these conversations impact health policy and procedures. Luckily, I'm not the only one interested in studying these important issues. 


Current projects include analysis of hospital medical error image restoration strategies, analysis of patient safety health campaigns, and a large, multi-year project examining patient and partner emotional support during medical error disclosure and recovery. 

Communication and Death Studies

I do like the dark side of health communication, but that may not come to a surprise to my students and colleagues. We need to talk about these issues, especially communication about dying and death. My love of death studies was piqued thanks to a wonderful class on death and dying I took in graduate school. One elective changed my life! Now, I work on a variety of communication and death studies research projects, primarily with my communication death studies research partner, Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

We are currently working on a number of projects, including the final validation of our Communication Apprehension about Death (CADS) scale, miscarriage rhetoric, and mourning metaphors. 

Health Organizing 

My love of patient safety is grounded in a desire to explore and understand how health is organized. Be it studying health organizations or public and organizational discourses which influence how we process and structure our healthcare experiences, I am drawn to understanding these mirco and macro communication practices. 


This line of research has allowed me to focus on mobile health clinics, organizational wellness policies, and public discourses about organizational health policy. 


My current projects in this area are focused on provider cultural competence and organizational communication strategies in a professional nutrition association.