Conference topics often too generic

Carefully consider audiences when planning

The topic of health care education often is too generic for a conference; therefore, it is wise to define the audience and tailor the conference to this professional mix, the experts say.

The national conference for the Philadelphia-based Health Care Education Association (HCEA) is designed to attract people in the field of patient, staff, and community education. As a result, topics are selected to meet the needs of health care professionals in each of these fields.

"In addition, we subdivide the session into novice, intermediate, and advanced so it gives the person choosing an idea on what focus the speaker will take," says Sandra Cornett, PhD, RN, director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences The Ohio State University in Columbus, and a member of the HCEA conference planning committee.

A short description of each session also was included in the conference brochure so that people considering attending would see that it was time well spent. Once at the conference, those attending could make informed decisions about each session based on information in their conference binder, which included the objectives of each conference workshop.

A keynote speaker followed by several concurrent sessions helps conference topics better fit the needs of a wider audience as well. "It’s nice to give people an option; you get more variety that way," says Cornett.

When planning a regional conference for a networking group in Oregon and southern Washington, the committee tried to select topics that would appeal to a variety of educators because of its diversity of membership. Within the networking group are professionals in staff development, patient education, community education, agencies, public health, clinical practice settings, and university education programs.

"One of the objectives in planning our most recent conference was to have at least one breakout session that addressed the different settings at which educators worked or that would reach across those settings," says Virginia Lundquist, RN, MS, staff development director for Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City, OR.

One of the topics that the committee chose to cross health care settings was health literacy and how to evaluate written materials and produce materials for patients and staff that are understandable.

To keep from being too generic, it sometimes is helpful to pull in speakers from specialty areas such as diabetes, says Zeena Engelke, RN, MS, patient education manager for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison.

However, it is a fine balance from being too general to being too specialized, she notes.

"If you want to pull in the people who are doing the teaching, you have to look at the driving force that would bring them to the conference. It isn’t how to write materials as much as the actual patient and family education," Engelke says.