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Yet as hospitals re-engineer or merge with other facilities, managers are being asked to wear more than one hat. Often patient education is one of a multitude of responsibilities and not the main job focus.
To keep from shortchanging patient education, people must learn how to manage multiple priorities, says Sue Chapman, EDD, director of education and volunteer services at St. Mary’s Health Care System in Athens, GA. Recently she was also put in charge of personnel, leaving about 20% to 25% of her time for patient education. "Obviously, with so many hats, I don’t get to spend a lot of time on [patient education]. Therefore, I work through other people," she says. (For additional tips on how to keep from shortchanging patient education, see p. 47.)
As chairwoman of the hospitalwide patient education committee, Chapman uses small teams to complete many tasks. For example, when the hospital was preparing for a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations survey, a team looked at how patient education functioned throughout the facility to ensure that all standards were addressed.
To find people with the expertise needed for a given team, approach the appropriate department head, advises Chapman. For example, if the project is related to physical therapy, she would ask the rehab administrator to participate or to assign a staff member who could be relieved of some regular duties to work on a special project.
It’s important to relinquish responsibilities. Take a good look at all that you do, advises Noda. Some tasks may not be as necessary as you think, or you may have to give up some responsibilities. There may be someone else just as capable who could assume some of your duties.
Before accepting another job, clarify your role and responsibilities, says Dawn Stivale, MSN, RN, nursing educator for ambulatory services and chairwoman of the patient/family education committee at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia.
Stivale, who spends about 70% of her time on staff education and 30% on patient education, had to know the mission of the patient education committee, as well as its areas of responsibility, before accepting the job as chairwoman. In Stivale’s case, the patient education committee oversees material and program development in inpatient, outpatient, home care, and long-term care. By asking upfront, you’ll know if you can manage the job or need to negotiate some of the responsibilities, she says.
In addition to getting a clear view of what you will be held accountable for, make sure that administrators understand that certain tasks might change, says Chapman. "With fewer people, you can’t do the job the same way. Something is not going to be provided any more, or it will be provided less frequently or in a different way," she explains.
Also, it’s difficult to be creative when your attention is fragmented and not focused totally on patient education. "I feel like often I am going through the motions, just doing tasks because this has to be done, and this has to be done. I don’t have time to use my brain and think about new ideas or new ways of doing things," says Chapman.
To break from the daily grind and stimulate creativity, Chapman makes time for conferences that include patient education a couple of times a year. She has attended the Chicago-based American Society for Healthcare Education and Training annual patient education conference for six years. Reading professional journals helps her stay abreast of trends. She even reads mail order catalogues on patient education products. "I look at the catalogs to see what people are teaching because if the company has developed a video, then obviously there was a need for it," explains Chapman.
[Editors note: The Chicago-based American Society for Healthcare Education and Training (ASHET) will hold its annual health care education conference on May 3-6 at the Sheraton World Resort Orlando (FL). Conference fees are $495 for members and $595 for nonmembers. For more information write: American Society for Healthcare Education and Training, American Hospital Association, One North Franklin, Chicago, IL 60606. Telephone: (312) 422-3726.]