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From dispute to dialogue: building bridges with language

Discover the power of language to change the world

This master track provides you with the theoretical means to understand the role of language and communication in health-related contexts, as well as with the skills to promote dialogue and critically reflect on its outcome.

Having a good conversation has become more difficult in the current, increasingly polarized, social and political climate. But looking at a problem through the eyes of another, thus entering into a dialogue, is essential to overcome differences and create an inclusive society. 

The words of a President matter, no matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” President Biden's speech on violence at the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2021.

Understanding language use in everyday life

The program begins by laying a solid theoretical foundation for understanding language use in everyday and institutional contexts. For example, you learn to analyze how treatment options are negotiated between doctors and patients, how neonatal care is discussed with parents, and how anti-vaccine movements operate on social media.

Uniquely, the connection to professional practice is already established during the study program itself. Your academic internship is set up in close collaboration with health organizations in the field. The courses will include discussions of pertinent real-life case studies involving contemporary societal problems such as the lack of trust in science or mental health problems among young people, thus stimulating you to critically evaluate alternative solutions in order to provide sound and practicable advice.

There is a great demand for academically trained dialogue or communication specialists in the health area, in their role of independent consultants, researchers, facilitators, mediation experts or patient educators. Especially where scientific expertise is at stake or citizen participation of great importance, insight is required into how to create and sustain a fruitful dialogue between government and citizen, or between professionals and patients or clients. Think of institutes such as the Dutch RIVM, Ministries for Health, but also pharmaceutical industry, hospitals, hospices, addiction care, international NGOs and the WHO. 

Meet our lecturers

Want to know more about our lecturers? Get to know them here: dr. Lotte van Burgsteden, dr. Bogdana Huma, dr. Elliott Hoey, Lieve van Hengel, prof. dr. Hedwig te Molder.

The study programme

Period 1

The program begins in September by laying a general theoretical foundation. With the course Communication Design in Society, you will acquire specialised knowledge of communication theories with a language focus and learn how to apply them to different modes of communication such as blogs, Twitter, debates and dialogue.

A key course is Dialogue for Health, in which you learn to analyse real-life interactions on health issues, both face-to-face and online, and apply these insights to situations where dialogue is used or needed. We look at when and how scientific knowledge is used to support or challenge an argument, and for what purposes experiential knowledge (e.g., 'Listen to your own body') is put forward. You will critically reflect on these analyses with the help of dialogue theories: What makes a conversation a dialogue? What are the terms and conditions for dialogue?

Period 2

In period 2 (November-December) you will enhance your analytic skills and apply the method of conversation analysis to Medical and Healthcare Interactions. You will learn about and reflect on issues such as: How do doctors deliver bad news? Can patients negotiate treatment decisions? And to what extent do models of shared decision making correspond with practice?

You will be able to choose an elective from a range of courses in the study guide. Electives give you an opportunity to put dialogue practices in a broader societal, organizational or historical perspective. Examples are listed below.

Periods 3 and 4 

Period 3 (January) marks the transition from theory to practice: you will start your first Internship, followed by a second internship in period 4 (February-March). In the same period, in Health Communication and Social Media, you will learn about, for example, patients' use of social media to share experiences and seek support, and chatbots that advise people about their health.

Periods 5 and 6

You will conclude your study with a Thesis in periods 5 and 6 (April-June). Read more about the internships and your thesis below. The start date of this programme is September 1st. You will find the study programme in our studyguide.


  • Communication Design in Society
  • Dialogue for Health
  • Medical and Health Care Interactions
  • Elective(s): 
    • Introduction to Medical and Health Humanities
    • The Power of Metaphor
    • Text and Image in News and Advertising
    • Usability Testing van Corporate Websites
    • Culture and Identity in Organizations
  • Internship 1: Facilitating Dialogue
  • Internship 2: Applied Research Project
  • Health Communication and Social Media
  • Master Thesis

You will find the study programme in our studyguide.


In Internship Part 1 – Facilitating Dialogue - you learn about and practise methods for facilitating actual dialogue. You will be trained to design, support, monitor and evaluate dialogue practices. The programme is unique in offering a direct connection with professional practice.  Each and every student will work within an organisational environment - for example a hospital, the WHO, UNICEF, Public Health institutes such as the Dutch RIVM or patient organisations – in which s/he can practise and apply dialogue skills. 

In Internship Part 2, the Applied Research Project, the student will set up and conduct a small study on a self-chosen topic, with both an academic supervisor on research methods, and a supervisor from a health organisation. Already in period 4, you start preparing your Thesis, in which you may use data from the same organisation as you did your internship with, but not necessarily so.

Master's thesis

Already in period 4, you start preparing your thesis, in which you may use data from the same organisation as you did your internship with, but not necessarily so. 

Your thesis may focus on a broad array of health-related topics, as long as your research is grounded in the analysis of real-life interactions. For example, think of:

  • understanding and facilitating the interaction between doctors, caregivers and patients about palliative care in hospitals or nursing homes
  • designing a child vaccination campaign, including its theoretical foundations
  • preparing and evaluating public dialogue on the health effects of livestock farming, between farmers, government and local residents. 

Change your future with the Dialogue, Health and Society programme

Change your future with the Dialogue, Health and Society programme

On completing this Master’s programme you will be able to work in a wide range of health-oriented public and private organisations. As a graduate with a theoretically grounded understanding of healthcare communication and practical experience gained during the internships, you will be able to work as a facilitator of dialogue and mediation practices and conduct research or advisory activities.

Explore your future prospects
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Questions about the programme?

Send an email to prof. Hedwig te Molder or contact dr. Bogdana Huma: