How to juggle the workload in a one-person department

You need to convince all to lend a hand

Time can be the No. 1 enemy of patient education coordinators in one-person departments. "I cannot be everywhere at once. There is probably an infinite potential for each service line and department to use my services, and that is something I can’t do as a one-person department," says Donette Lasher, MAT, patient education coordinator at York (PA) Health System.

To get a handle on time, patient education coordinators must find allies within the organization, prioritize tasks, incorporate others into the process, learn to use time efficiently, and be a strong advocate for patient education.

"I have a half-hour during hospital orientation every other week to convince the new hire that patient education is not just my job, it is everybody’s job at this institution," says Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD, CDE, patient and family education coordinator at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Education is part of the mission and vision statement for the health care system that consists of a 1,200-bed hospital, five satellite centers, and 21 primary care clinics.

To get staff to value patient education, it’s important to keep it in the forefront. Sweeting embraces every opportunity to publish information relating to the topic. For example, she writes pieces pertaining to patient education for the employee newsletter that is distributed with paychecks, and also for the system’s bimonthly magazine. Such pieces can be simple, such as a health tip with resources for more information, rather than a lengthy article.

To keep education at the forefront, Janet Swift, RN, BSN, patient education coordinator at Memorial Hospital of Sheridan County in Sheridan, WY, conducts open chart reviews and leaves a note on the chart to individuals who did not document correctly. For example, the note might remind someone about completing the learning assessment.

She also conducts closed chart reviews and uses the information to graph the patient education efforts in each department. "The graph will show if the assessment of learning barriers and learning needs were documented correctly, if education resources were used appropriately, and which departments did patient education. I present the graphs at clinical manager’s meetings or to the department heads," says Swift. (For information on techniques to prove the value of your job, see article, above.)

To ensure that patient education is being done correctly, it is important to develop allies and get others to share in the workload. Lasher developed relationships with the physician leaders in each service line at the health care facility. "They were able to identify which physicians were really excited and motivated about patient education, so I would know whom to contact and work with," she says.

Another option is to build a liaison network, advises Sweeting. There is someone in every department with an education focus, and it is important to discover that person through networking. To develop relationships with physicians, she sends information about programs and materials via e-mail or through interoffice mail. She also has developed relationships with case managers and the public relations director. "The public relations person knows about resources I don’t and can put me in contact with people," explains Sweeting.

The patient education committee can help carry the workload. Lasher educates the members of the patient education committee on the principles of good reader-friendly material, so they can take the responsibility for work on education materials in their area. Sweeting created a brief manual that explains how to write, edit, and review patient education tools within her health care system.

When the workload falls on your shoulders, it is important to prioritize tasks. "I know what the systemwide priorities are and what projects are most important to administration and therefore the best use of my time. That helps me prioritize tasks," says Lasher.

If you don’t report to someone at the administrative level, establish a connection before creating goals and objectives for patient education to make sure they are in line with the goals of the health care organization.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Loretta Anderson Glaze, RN, education and quality improvement coordinator at North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City, OR, devotes time to patient education tasks that the patient education task force identifies. For example, staff needed resources to teach newly diagnosed diabetes patients, so she developed a resource cart to keep on the units and a check sheet that lists what to teach and what information to give the patient.

In addition to patient education, Glaze divides her time between staff development, management training, and community education. Therefore, she must work on a needs-oriented basis.

Yet, even with tasks prioritized, it’s important to work efficiently and make the best use of time. To work more efficiently, communicate with colleagues so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, says Anderson Glaze. She belongs to the Oregon Council of Health Educators, which meets quarterly and has a listserv for e-mail communication. She also uses the Patient Education Network listserv, which is monitored by The University of Utah Hospital and Clinics office of patient education. (For more information on this listserv, see editor’s note at the end of this article.)

Learn to be proficient in all the computer programs you have available, especially if you don’t have clerical support. That’s a good way to work more efficiently, says Lasher. Also, don’t get caught up in tasks such as filling orders or mailing flyers. Contact the volunteer department and get help for these labor-oriented jobs.

Another good way to work more efficiently is to make a list of the meetings that have high attendance, such as the nurse manager’s meeting. "Use those meetings to share information quickly and get an idea of what is going on throughout the health care system. It is easy to get isolated when you are a one-person department," says Lasher.

(Editor’s note: Find information on how to use the Patient Education Network listserv on the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics’ Web site at

For more information on balancing the workload of one-person patient education departments, contact:

Loretta Anderson Glaze, RN, Education and Quality Improvement Coordinator, North Lincoln Hospital, 3043 N.E. 28th St., Lincoln City, OR 97367. Telephone: (541) 996-7113. Fax: (541) 996-7219. E-mail: glazlo@

Donette Lasher, MAT, Patient Education Coordinator, York Health System, 1001 South George St., York, PA 17405. Telephone: (717) 851-3081. Fax: (717) 851-3049. E-mail:

Sharon Sweeting, MS, RD, LD, CDE, Patient and Family Education Coordinator, Department of Education and Development, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Jackson Medical Towers-7th Floor East, 1500 N.W. 12th Ave., Miami, FL 33136. Telephone: (305) 585-8168. Fax: (305) 326-7982. E-mail:

Janet Swift, RN, BSN, Patient Education Coordinator, Memorial Hospital of Sheridan County, 1401 West Fifth St., Sheridan, WY 82801. Telephone: (307) 672-1193. Fax: (307) 672-1111. E-mail: mhscpc@wave.sheridan.