2007 Salary Survey Results

The challenge of patient education oversight makes job rewarding

Salaries most likely based on job description

Work in patient education is both challenging and rewarding, say those employed in this field of health care.

"There is always some new way you can provide the resources for your patient population," says Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, executive director of the patient education office at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Whether creating print material or producing computer-based learning venues, making sure the different populations have resources in the way they need them is always a challenge, she says. The need can be basic, such as making sure readability is low or the resource is culturally appropriate, and it can be more complex.

Recently, a caregiver for a patient treated at M.D. Anderson said the self-care DVDs patients and caregivers bring home to help them with such tasks as wound care were helpful but a podcast (a digital media file that can be viewed on a portable media player) would be more beneficial. This caregiver explained that he did not have a television in the bedroom, but he could view the steps for the dressing change on a portable media player as he completed the task.

More and more, interactive computer-based technology is used to reach patients at home, as well as in the health care setting, as a means of providing needed information, says Nancy Goldstein, MPH, patient education program manager at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis. This is a trend that patient education managers can expect to continue.

The challenge is to consistently take a hard look at core services to determine if they are still the best or if it might be better to try something new, says Cezanne Garcia, MPH, CHES, associate director of patient- and family-centered care and education services at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

To nurture growth in a resource-limited environment demands creativity and innovation and a willingness to suspend services that tend to be more nice to do then necessary to do, adds Garcia.

While the job is challenging, most agree that determining how to address these challenges and, thus, meet the needs of the patients is what makes the job rewarding.

"It's rewarding because it puts the patient's mind at ease and helps them to be confident in their decision making," says Mary Szczepanik, MS, BSN, RN, manager of cancer education and support and outreach at OhioHealth Cancer Services in Columbus.

"Knowing you are making a difference by providing patients and families with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed on their own makes the job rewarding," Goldstein says.

The fact that the job is both challenging and rewarding is what keeps people in patient education for years. According to the 2007 salary survey, most are not new to the job of coordinating patient education. Most readers who completed the survey indicated they had worked in the field for several years. According to Villejo, the field remains challenging so the job stays fresh and exciting.

"The job is always challenging and that is why it is rewarding. I just finished my 25th year at M.D. Anderson and I have more on my plate than I ever did and it is as challenging as it has ever been," says Villejo.

No matter how long a person has worked in the field of education, most are seasoned health care workers. The vast majority of readers had been in health care for more than 25 years. It is also a field that is dominated by RNs.

"Patient education is an integral part of nursing care so nurses will often fall in love with that aspect of their job and want to pursue it in a disease site in which they have experience," says Szczepanik.

For love or money?

A love for patient education may be the attraction for patient education managers but they don't always make the same amount of money as their colleagues with the same responsibilities make in other departments, says Villejo. There are two reasons why this is so. First, it is an education position, which tends to have lower wages, and second, the field is dominated by women and frequently women are paid lower salaries than men.

Readers who took the survey indicated their annual gross income ranged from $30,000 to $130,000. However many were in the $40,000-$70,000 range.

Villejo says M.D. Anderson conducts nationwide market surveys to determine the salaries of people in comparable positions when determining how much to pay an employee in patient education.

Other factors that could impact the salary offered for a patient education management position include the size of the organization, the number of staff members in the department, and the scope of the program, explains Goldstein.

From the reader responses it does look as if health care institutions of varying sizes are creating the position of patient education coordinator or manager. Hospital sites that employed a patient education coordinator ranged from 100 beds up to 1,000 beds. What makes such an employee valuable?

"I believe there is recognition that informed patients can make a huge difference in their health outcomes. The sophisticated treatments and procedures patients undergo might not be successful unless patients know how to care for themselves upon discharge," says Goldstein.

In addition, there is a tremendous demand on the part of consumers for more information and involvement. There is also a Joint Commission requirement to demonstrate patient involvement in decision making that promotes having a patient educator on staff as well, she adds.

There are many benefits to having a patient education coordinator or manager at a health care institution. They know how to do the proper assessments to develop a comprehensive program that includes providing appropriate educational resources at the correct point of patient care and they know how to promote the program, says Villejo. They also will have a budget, whereas individual nursing units and other hospital departments won't have money for patient education, says Szczepanik.

Health literacy trends and the need for good communication in order to enhance patient safety are reasons for creating the position of patient education coordinator, says Garcia.

Education can promote patient satisfaction, adds Goldstein; also, a coordinated patient education effort is a good use of health care resources.

"With limitations on budgets, having a coordinated program can actually save the institution money by reducing duplication of efforts and streamlining available resources," she says.


For more information on factors influencing salaries in the field of patient education, contact:

  • Cezanne Garcia, MPH, CHES, associate director, patient- and family-centered care and education services, University of Washington Medical Center, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 356052, Seattle, WA 98195-6052. Phone: (206) 598-8424. E-mail: ccgarcia@u.washington.edu.
  • Nancy Goldstein, MPH, patient education program manager, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview 420 Delaware Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Phone: (612) 273-6356. E-mail: ngoldst1@fairview.org.
  • Mary Szczepanik, MS, BSN, RN, manager, cancer education, support, and outreach, OhioHealth Cancer Services, 3535 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, OH 43214. Phone: (614) 566-3280. E-mail: szczepm@ohiohealth.com.
  • Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, executive director, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, patient education office, 1515 Holcombe - 21, Houston, TX 77030. Phone: (713) 792-7128. E-mail: lvillejo@mdanderson.org.