Health observances create teachable moment’

Take advantage of heightened public awareness

Thanks to the promotional efforts of the Dallas-based American Heart Association, February has been known as "heart month" for years. This makes February a good month for community outreach programs on the prevention of heart disease. Different health organizations have sponsored various health-related observances like this one for every month of the year. These observances provide the perfect opportunity to increase consumer awareness because the media often focus on them and the organizations offer many promotional materials.

"We do a lot of our program planning around monthly observances. The entire Consumer Health Education staff sits down each year to go through the different observances and picks out one or two per month," says Deborah J. Pfaffenhauser, RN, director of consumer health education at Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover, DE.

The medical center uses its mobile van to provide targeted screening and education programs in the community. For example, May is osteoporosis month, so the van will go into the community to conduct osteoporosis screenings. Staff try not to focus on the same health promotions year after year, but the public is so aware of some of them (such as heart month in February and breast cancer awareness month in October) that they must be included, says Pfaffenhauser. (For information on health promotion months, see box at right.)

Health promotion events are included on the monthly health education calendar along with patient and family education classes and support group meetings at Jackson Memorial/University of Miami Medical Center. "On that monthly calendar, the health promotion of the month is listed, and the activity that celebrates that promotion is highlighted," says Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD, CDE, coordinator of patient and family education at the health care facility.

Each member of the systemwide patient education committee is responsible for planning a health observance one month out of the year. "I am a one-woman department, so I have to use the extended network," says Sweeting.

Staff members in the education department at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, NY, choose an event to feature for the month and create an educational bulletin board display in the clinics. They also display materials in a variety of places, such as on a table outside the cafeteria or at the wellness center and personnel health office. The event can provide the opportunity to write a feature on the topic for the hospital newsletter, says Nancy Black, RN, BSN, CDE, patient educator at Saint Joseph’s.

"Variety with gimmicks to catch attention works best for us without a great expense," she says. Sometimes the time of year evokes promotional ideas, as well. For example, a bulletin board display for December focused on surviving the holidays. It featured activities for families and simple gift ideas, such as a recipe for play dough.

For more information on developing promotions around monthly health observances, contact:

Deborah J. Pfaffenhauser, RN, Director, Consumer Health Education, Bayhealth Medical Center, 640 South State St., Dover, DE 19901. Telephone: (302) 674-7099. Fax: (302) 730-3047. E-mail: dpfaffenhauser@

Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD, CDE, Coordinator, Patient and Family Education, Jackson Memorial/ University of Miami Medical Center, Miami. Telephone: (305) 585-8168. Fax: (305) 326-7982. E-mail: