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Patient educator never tires of research role
A passion for learning keeps job fresh
Barb Petersen, RN, BSN, is patient education coordinator at Great Plains Regional Medical Center, a 116-bed facility in North Platte, NE. While meeting a variety of patient needs, she says a passion for learning keeps her job fresh. Petersen reports to the education director, as do the staff education coordinator, physician and community educator, and computer trainer. All four of these positions in the patient education department are full time.
The most time-consuming part of Petersen’s job is producing and distributing patient education materials that have been through the proper review process and are at an appropriate reading level for the medical center’s patient population, she says.
Another time-consuming aspect of her job is the diabetes education department that she oversees. It is an American Diabetes Association-certified program and therefore must meet and maintain the required standards. One full-time and one part-time diabetes educator works under her supervision.
She also coordinates the support groups that meet at the medical center making sure that they all are publicized whether a sponsored group, which an employee of the medical center facilitates, or an outside group. Extra duties include supervising health fairs.
Petersen worked her way into the job of patient education coordinator when she needed some extra hours following a maternity leave. "The hospital was getting ready for a Joint Commission visit and needed someone to organize the patient education material. I volunteered to do that, and then a position came open and I slid on over," she says.
She was hired as patient education coordinator in November 1999. Before that, she worked in same day surgery and also with employee health helping with physical screenings and immunizations of newly hired staff.
Petersen went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2002 and now is enrolled in a nurse practitioner program. "I enjoy school, so I want to keep going. It opens up a lot of new opportunities whether it be in this position or others there is a lot of room to grow," she says.
In an interview with Patient Education Management, Petersen shared many strategies that other patient education coordinators might find helpful. The following is the information she shared:
Question: What is your best success story?
Answer: Petersen recently resolved an educational problem the nursing staff were having with a patient’s caregiver on one of the floors. The caregiver’s husband was being discharged with a feeding tube following a stroke and she needed to learn such tasks as giving medications through the tube and flushing it. She had refused to take her husband to a nursing home.
Petersen set aside an hour and a half to teach the patient, which floor nurses could not do. She also pulled together a variety of resources, finding materials on the Internet.
"I put together a custom package just for her. There was some concern about her ability to read, so I focused on videos, pictures, and hands-on instruction," says Petersen.
A love for learning
Question: What is your area of strength?
Answer: "I love to learn. I take on things as a challenge, and I am very organized," Petersen replies. She tells all nurses during orientation that if they can’t find the right handout or video for teaching, or if they have a patient with a diagnosis with which they aren’t familiar, to give her a call. She likes to find the perfect material for patients and investigate disorders for which she is not familiar.
She manages a heavy workload by creating to-do lists and tracking projects on a calendar. On one side of Petersen’s desk are projects she’s working on. On the other side are those she has not yet completed. A separate file holds items that other staff members are working on, so she doesn’t lose track of anything.
Question: What lesson did you learn the hard way?
Answer: "There is a certain procedure you need to follow in a large organization and you need to make sure you go through the correct channels and get everyone involved when working on policy or a new patient handout," says Petersen.
This often means involving three more committees, but when you try to cut corners, you often end up redoing the handout, she says. If all the proper people are involved, you get better support for the project once it is completed.
Question: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Answer: "There’s just so much to do I can’t get it all done. With so many demands from the job things pile up and that is frustrating," Petersen says. She likes to complete projects in a systematic fashion, checking them off her list once they are finished, but her workload is overwhelming at times.
Question: What is your vision for patient education for the future?
Answer: "Providing patients with accessible educational materials so that they can take the initiative for learning about their disease or diagnosis would be ideal," says Petersen. To help accomplish this, she would like to have her office in a patient education resource center near the front door of the hospital. She also would like to have patient education kiosks located throughout the health care facility.
Preparing for Joint Commission
Question: What have you done differently since your last Joint Commission visit?
Answer: "We have been doing a lot more chart audits to see if patient education and pain assessment are being documented," Petersen says. Another important area is medication safety, so she also has been auditing charts to make sure that staff are providing proper information on medications to patients and documenting their efforts. Petersen was added to the hospital’s Joint Commission Team, which helps her keep abreast of the areas of concern for the next survey.
Question: When trying to create and implement a new form, patient education materials, or program, where do you go to get information/ ideas from which to work?
Answer: "[The forms] are often so specific to our facility, it is easiest to see what staff want and create something," Petersen says.
Staff will call to let her know that they don’t have a handout for a certain medication or they are seeing a lot of patients with a particular diagnosis and they don’t have educational materials available to support their teaching.
Once a request is made, Petersen starts with national organizations to find the latest information on the topic. She also e-mails other patient education coordinators with whom she networks and puts a request for information on a patient education listserv to see how others are educating patients on a particular topic. She often seeks input from medical directors and general practitioners as well.
"Basically, I draw from wherever I can," says Petersen.
For more information about patient education practices at Great Plains Regional Medical Center, contact:
• Barb Petersen, RN, Patient Education Coordinator, Great Plains Regional Medical Center, 601 W. Leota, North Platte, NE 69101. Telephone: (308) 535-8640. E-mail: Petersen@mail.gprmc.com.