Promote your institution and make the most of Health Care Education Week

Understand the purpose, set a goal, and begin making plans

Patient education managers do not have the time or funds to work on a project that has no lasting benefits. So before making a decision to observe Health Care Education Week Nov. 4-10, 2007, it is important to determine how to get the most from the effort.

Understanding its purpose is a good start.

The observation week was implemented to bring visibility to the education program within each institution. "It is a way to focus on the need for patient/staff education and to highlight outstanding leaders within the institution that exemplify the standards set by the institution and other regulatory agencies," says Betty J. Westmoreland, president and CEO at Pritchett & Hull Associates in Atlanta.

According to Diane C. Moyer, MS, RN, program manager for consumer health education at The Ohio State University Medical Center, "sharing stories about patient education programs or materials that have been developed and highlighting efforts of individuals or teams who have made a difference with patient education can raise awareness and spark interest in others to improve patient education efforts."

In addition to inspiring colleagues, bringing visibility to the various programs and resources can increase budget funds for patient education, says Westmoreland.

"It's also a good opportunity to educate staff, patients and families, and community on key concepts of health education," says Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, director of the OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Initiative at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus.

"I think Health Care Education Week is very beneficial. It allows special time to be set aside to focus on patient education, and in our case, to honor and recognize those that provide above and beyond patient education. Our department uses this time as a way to market our services, to make departments aware of what we have to offer, new documents that are available and those that have been updated," says Andrea Dotson, a health educator in patient and family education services at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Once it is determined that celebrating Health Care Education Week would be beneficial, planning begins. Go into planning with a goal in mind, advises Kathy Ordelt, RN-CPN, CRRN, patient and family education coordinator at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"Determine what you are trying to accomplish and then work toward that goal with some really good planning. For the planning process, get a core group of people who really believe in the project, who are passionate about it and willing to do some work to make it happen," she says.

At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta people who do outstanding work in staff education, patient and family education, and community education are rewarded. After many years of holding the Golden Apple Awards, this pin that symbolizes outstanding education has become a coveted award.

While the ceremony and selection process has evolved over the years currently each department holds a Health Education Expo in September inviting people who have completed a project, written a journal article, presented at a conference, done research, or are outstanding educators to display their work. People within each department vote for the project that should be recognized system-wide and it advances to the final judging.

Members of the Family Centered Care Council act as judges and evaluate 30-35 entries according to a list of established criteria. They select the best of the best and those people receive the Golden Apple Award at a special breakfast held during Health Care Education Week. Awards can go to individuals or teams.

"We honor everyone who comes up to a system level, whether they win a Golden Apple or not," says Ordelt.

There is no "best" way to celebrate. Activities must be tailored to the resources available at each institution and what would be the most beneficial.

For example, Wayne A. Neal, MAT, BSN, professional practice specialist for Patient/Family Education at Children's National Medical Center in Washington DC, finds portable activities work best. She likes to create storyboards she can place on units that focus on education or decorate a cart on wheels so she can transport games with questions pertaining to education, such as Jeopardy, from unit to unit. Employees can then play for small prizes.

"Last year we did a little fair highlighting staff development and health education week combined and it was hard to get staff to the location. If we take a cart around, we engage more of the staff," explains Neal.

Activities can be focused on staff, patient/family, and community education but when starting out, choose one area in which to "get your feet wet," says Cornett.

"The week can be labor-intensive and you do not want to over-extend the services. If you choose more than one area keep the theme going throughout all of them so there is some consistency and recognition," she advises.

This year the official theme for Health Care Education Week is: "What creates a great patient/staff educator?"

Generating ideas

There are several ways to come up with ideas to celebrate Health Care Education Week.

Pritchett & Hull and the Health Care Education Association co-sponsor a packet to help patient education coordinators plan and execute activities for the observance week. Suggestions include the following:

  • Use posters and pins to announce Health Care Education Week and create awareness within the organization. The packet provides these promotion tools.
  • Write a feature article for your organization's newsletter or the local paper on how education helped a patient or staff member.
  • Ask the administrator, governor, mayor, etc. to sign a Health Care Education Week proclamation announcing the celebratory week and all its activities. Get local press coverage about this proclamation along with a picture of your organization's administrator and the governor, mayor, etc. accepting the proclamation for your institution.
  • Hold a luncheon awards ceremony to honor those outstanding winners within each category that you decide to honor. For example, staff can be honored in three categories — individual, interdisciplinary teams, and community (staff member who is instrumental in providing services for the community).
  • Hold an open-house for the community to come in and be part of your institution's celebration. Have a local business person or your CEO speak on what is going on at the institution and how it benefits the community.

"There is no limit to what some very creative educators can do," says Westmoreland.

Contacting other health care facilities is another way to get ideas to celebrate the week. Cornett suggests these additional activities:

  • Set up educational displays in the cafeteria and other "gathering" places. Hold a contest for the best bulletin board pertaining to the theme for the week.
  • Purchase items to give away that complement the theme, such as pens, key chains, fortune cookies, magnifiers or bookmarks. A key message or contact information can be placed on the give-away for future reference.
  • Develop a game that gives information important to staff, such as a crossword puzzle, and have them complete it and submit it for a prize drawing.

At the University of Washington Medical Center, "goodie bags" filled with new patient education documents created over the past year, important health initiative information, brochures about hospital services, and balloons are taken to various care areas. This is in addition to an awards ceremony, where outstanding patient educators are honored. Both staff and volunteers are eligible for these awards.

"We create a patient education awards booklet. Each recipient has their picture printed in the book along with a synopsis of why they provide outstanding patient education. All recipients along with their managers and other key stakeholders get copies of the award booklets," says Dotson.

Creating or using an existing committee to plan Health Care Education Week is another method for generating ideas for activities.

Neal uses the Education and Strategy Team at Children's National Medical Center to generate ideas. It meets once a month and consists of representatives from all areas of the health care facility.

Consider funding

It's important that the plans match the funding available. The observation at the University of Washington Medical Center costs about $2,200, but most agree Health Care Education Week can be celebrated on a budget.

To cut costs Moyer suggests printing award certificates to honor those selected as outstanding in the field of education and also printing a short article in the employee newsletter about the winners.

"If you have a larger budget to work with, providing food or incentive gifts can certainly help to attract people to the events," she adds.

No matter the amount budgeted, if team awards are given, it is best to limit the size of the team or to ask that the key players be identified to keep costs down, advises Moyer. In this way you avoid having a staff of 60-plus people being identified for a team award.

In addition to determining the budget, create a timeline to complete the work for the various activities planned.

Ordelt says planning begins at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta about six months in advance. Because administrators are invited to the awards breakfast and two vice presidents present the Golden Apple Awards, the event needs to be on their calendar well in advance. Also a room big enough for the 70-plus people who attend must be reserved and a menu plan worked out with the catering department.

Even if activities are low-key, it is important to plan ahead, says Neal. She allows herself two months to put together the game cart and order prizes. While the actual work only takes a month, she allots for extra time for the weeks when her calendar is too full to devote time to tasks for assembling the cart.

Celebrating Health Care Education Week, whether in a large or small way, is beneficial. Cornett says there is never enough recognition for good education.

"The award winners wear their pins on their uniforms and peers know this person was recognized for their excellence in patient education," she explains.

In addition, interdisciplinary teams begin to take into consideration behaviors that would make them an award winner.

The information about patient education highlighted during the event is useful long after the event. One year Cornett used a diversity theme and instituted several documents about teaching patients in specific age groups with special learning needs such as low literacy, vision, hearing, or cognitive problems. The information is still used to educate staff and is on the Intranet.

Neal says even small activities, such as the use of storyboards, are beneficial. "If you impact one family or one nurse, that is important," she explains.


For more information about planning activities for Health Care Education Week contact:

  • Sandra Cornett, PhD, RN, director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University, 218 Meiling Hall, 370 West 9th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210-1238. Phone: (614) 292-0716. E-mail:
  • Andrea Dotson, health educator, patient and family education services, University of Washington Medical Center, 1959 NE Pacific St., Box 358126, Seattle, WA 98195. Phone: (206) 598-7448. E-mail:
  • Diane C. Moyer, MS, RN, program manager, consumer health education, The Ohio State University Medical Center, 660 Ackerman Rd., Room 667, P.O. Box 183110, Columbus, OH 43218-3110. Phone: (614) 293-3191. E-mail:
  • Wayne A. Neal, MAT, BSN, professional practice specialist, patient/family education, Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC. E-mail:
  • Kathy Ordelt, RN-CPN, CRRN, patient and family education coordinator, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, 1600 Tullie Circle, Atlanta, GA 30329. Phone: (404) 785-7839. Fax: (404) 785-7017. E-mail:
  • Betty J. Westmoreland, president and CEO, Pritchett & Hull Associates, 3440 Oakcliff Rd., Suite 110, Atlanta, GA 30340-3079. Phone: (770) 451-0602. E-mail: