Capitalize on curiosity: Education they can’t miss

Health fairs and poster expos grab attention

At Jackson Health System in Miami, the grand finale for Health Care Education Week (Nov. 3-10, 2002) is a health fair, which always is held on a Friday. Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE, coordinator of patient and family education, implemented the fair several years ago, and it has grown in popularity as additional booths are added for people to obtain personal health care information.

Currently, there are 30-40 tables at the fair, and many participants provide health screenings of some sort. "Everyone likes to know about their body; so if you can personalize it, you have their attention for a short period of time. It is amazing how many people will hold their hand out to have a finger stick. We capitalize on their curiosity," says Sweeting.

About 400-600 people come by the fair, which is held in the park on the medical center campus. They include staff as well as people visiting patients.

Booths have included foot screenings for people with diabetes, posture screening for signs of scoliosis, lipid screening, and blood glucose screening. There also is a booth that tests a person’s body mass index and percentage of body fat.

The booth for blood pressure screening has a lot of the automatic cuffs so that people can learn to read and understand their own numbers and use the portable machines that often are placed in drugstores. Breast self-exams are taught on four breast models with progressive size lumps so women can learn what to look for when doing an exam.

Respiratory therapists from the health system counsel people on breathing problems, an adult immunization team provides vaccines for health problems such as hepatitis or flu, and the organ transplant teams help people fill out organ donor cards. All units throughout the health system are invited to participate.

Also invited are community and government organizations. The county government neighborhood service team is present to answer questions on government programs, the police have a booth, and the poison control center displays local poisonous plants.

All screenings at the health fair offer immediate results because people do not want to wait. Some wander through while waiting for a clinic appointment, and others are on break from work. If a potentially serious health problem is detected during a screening, the person receives an immediate referral to the walk-in clinic. Participants also are told that the screening is voluntary and they should discuss these health matters with their physician. According to the county attorney, this information provides legal protection for Jackson Health System.

In addition to providing quick results, screenings cannot be costly unless a company or organization funds the process. Last year, a pharmaceutical company funded the lipid profile.

Those who volunteer for the health fair receive lunch courtesy of Jackson Health System, which usually is a sandwich, piece of fruit, cookie, and bottle of juice or water. Catering delivers the lunches to each booth because the health fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and people can’t leave to eat a meal.

Sweeting begins planning eight weeks in advance and uses a checklist to make sure all tasks have been completed, such as securing the park, contacting potential participants, and making sure enough tables and chairs are set up for each booth.

Two other events are planned for Health Care Education Week. A poster expo is set up in the main lobby on Wednesday of Health Care Education Week. All the posters displayed focus on patient education. An educator remains with each poster to answer visitors’ questions and provide one-page handouts should they want more information. Last year, 33 posters were displayed.

A popular poster sent by the surgical intensive care unit is a life-size body model on a poster with tubes and drains positioned on the body to teach family members what their loved one might look like in the recovery room.

To get units to participate, Sweeting schedules an educators’ meeting on how to create a professional poster. This meeting takes place two months in advance. "We don’t want a trifold science fair poster. We want something they can use on their unit after the expo," she says. The posters also are displayed in waiting rooms during national health observance months. For example, the breast self-exam poster was displayed during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In years past, Sweeting has held a continuing education event. This event usually is a presentation by a nationally renowned speaker. However, this year, she will display all the new hardware for the treatment of diabetes, such as inhaled insulin. "I am asking vendors to display their products on Tuesday of Health Care Education Week for staff and visitors," she says.

The poster expo and health fair have been successful methods for educating the public about health care, she explains.


For more information about creating a health fair or poster expo for Health Care Education Week, contact:

  • Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE, Coordinator, Patient and Family Education, Jackson Health System, Jackson Medical Towers — 7th Floor East, 1500 N.W. 12th Ave., Miami, FL 33136. Telephone: (305) 585-8168. E-mail: