Merrimack Communications Professor Continues to Expand Research Portfolio

Andrew Tollison, director of the Master of Arts in Communication graduate program, examines interpersonal communication within the healthcare system, specifically surrounding patients with terminal illnesses.
Headshot of Andrew Tollison
Associate Professor of Communication and Media Andrew Tollison is credited with 16 publications and 69 peer-reviewed conference presentations mainly on health communications.

One of the most crucial yet sometimes overlooked aspects of healthcare is basic interactions between providers and patients. Associate Professor of Communication and Media Andrew Tollison’s research hopes to highlight this conversation on communication.

“Health communication really expands to anything from health promotion, education, intervention efforts, all the way to how individuals communicatively cope with illness or, more specifically, how we engage and interact with our healthcare providers,” explained Tollison.

The director of the arts in communications graduate program has taught at Merrimack since 2012. And even with a full plate of teaching and administrative duties, he continues his passion for research. To date, he is credited with 16 publications and 69 peer-reviewed conference presentations.

“I’ve received research funding through Merrimack via multiple streams,” Tollison said. “I have received multiple faculty development grants, a SCURCA grant and funding from the Agenda for the Future Academic Innovation Fund, all of which have helped to advance my research from data collection to publication. It has also opened up collaboration opportunities on campus that may not have occurred otherwise.”

Tollison’s interest in healthcare communication began while studying for his master’s in communication at the University of Tennessee.

“I was doing a project on health and I really got into it,” he explained. “We were doing a study on what is ‘health.’ It really opened my eyes to health being so much more than just our physical, biological health. Then, as I continued in my Ph.D. program (in communications at the University of Texas at Austin), I really started to develop and started to hyperfocus on chronic illness, specifically cancer, and that’s kind of where it’s taken me today.”

In 2011, Tollison’s first research paper on the topic was published in the Journal of Applied Communication. Seven years later, the Journal of Nursing Education picked up “Stereotype Threat in Male Nurse-Patient Interactions,” a report Tollison described as a career highlight.

“It stems from my dissertation and it pushed me a little bit,” he recalled. “I had done a little bit of stereotype research, but I was really interested in seeing how stereotypes impact our ability to communicate. Up to that point, there were only a couple stereotype threat articles looking specifically at communication.”

As a professor at Merrimack, students have been drawn to Tollison’s friendly demeanor and direct teaching style. In 2022, he received the Edward G. Roddy, Jr. Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.

“To have students launch a campaign to nominate me, from my understanding, it really meant a lot,” he explained. “It’s really one of those touching moments where you pause and reflect a little bit on what you do and then why you do it.”

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