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Coming up with new ways to make learning within the home care environment fun and effective has never been easy. And with shrinking funds — assuming employee education still has a line in your agency’s budget — it’s even more difficult. Textbooks and expensive visual aids are out of the question, leaving instructors facing a class armed with little more than some flip charts, an easel, and a handful of Magic Markers. Even so, there’s no reason that a lack of materials must translate into a lack of educational opportunities for your home care agency staff.
That’s the quandary Shirley Parks, RN, MSN, director of education of SunPlus Home Health Services in San Diego, recently found herself in. Her supplies are limited — namely a Dry-Erase board, a TV/VCR, and herself — and as she put it, "I think the nurses are tired of looking at me, and there are only so many ways to reinvent Jeopardy into health care questions."
Parks knows firsthand the difficulty involved in overcoming a total lack of high-tech teaching materials and how that only makes getting and keeping the staff interested all the more difficult, lessening the chances that staff will absorb and retain the lessons. No matter the grade or education level, teachers everywhere can attest to the impact of eye-catching learning materials. "I think that people are used to being visually stimulated. They are constantly being bombarded with television, video games, computers, etc.," she notes, "so without the high-tech learning materials it is sometimes difficult to keep up a high level of interest."
Jerry Cleveland, president and CEO of Ministry Home Care in Marshfield, WI, agrees, saying that he has "found it is important to use a variety of visuals to keep the education interesting."
Parks has found several creative ways to present material to her staff, among them, the aforementioned game-show format. To give the game an extra boost, she "divided the group into two teams to foster a sense of competition," she explains. While game-show formats are often a fun and low-budget means of getting information across, don’t overlook some basic games that come from your childhood.
In one instance, Parks relied on a matching memory card game. She gave each team a set of nursing and medical abbreviations, each of which was printed on an index card. "They had to find the index card that matched the abbreviation that was on the table," she explains. "They were timed, and the first group to finish was the winner. That was a lot of fun."
In another example of Parks’ creativity, she used a luminescent powder to illustrate the importance of hand washing in a clinical setting. As she explains, "I was presenting a lecture on hand washing. While I lectured, I passed around a candy dish that I had previously coated with a powder that glows when exposed to black light. Everyone handled the dish. At the end of the presentation I sent everyone out to wash their hands. They all had confused looks on their faces. When they returned I used the black light to demonstrate their poor hand-washing techniques. They were horrified, but they all commented that they had learned from this experience."
As Parks noted, there are only so many ways to reinvent the Jeopardy format. Now, of course, with the popularity of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? educators can expand their game show repertoire, but that only goes so far. Then what do you as an educator do?
For starters, look outside your agency for free or low-cost resources, Parks suggests. Check into health care and education grants that might be given out by various associations or companies in the area. If you have any health care organizations in your area — pharmaceutical manufacturers, HMO company headquarters, medical equipment/supply manufacturers — check with their public relations and communications departments to see whether they have any kind of program to sponsor health care education in the community. If not, draft an outline of what you would like to teach your employees and present it to the company — remember, it’s great PR for the company to be involved in advancing education within the industry.
If that fails or isn’t an option, don’t give up. Cleveland, for example, suggests home care agencies look toward local community support. "Many times you can have your educational meetings in a church hall or library where access to equipment comes at no charge or at very little charge," he says.
If you have a local university, you might want to consider asking some of the professors to come in for guest lectures. If you’re not in an area with universities or colleges, don’t despair. Professors-for-a-day come in all shapes and sizes, and from all areas of the health care continuum. Consider asking some of the local medical establishment — clinical and administrative — to come and present courses on infection prevention, the latest in Parkinson’s treatment, what the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 means to home care, and so on. As an added benefit, many of these guest lecturers come not only with first-hand experience in these issues but with PowerPoint presentations as well. You’d be surprised how much asking for help can accomplish.
While outside resources can prove to be a wealth of information, don’t overlook your own staff as teachers. Have any attended or plan to attend a conference? Make sure they take good notes and bring back some ideas to share with the class. It might not be the most sophisticated presentation, but sometimes hearing it from a peer makes information sink in a little deeper, not to mention what happens when you realize you will have to present the conference material to a group of your peers — you listen more closely.
Parks knows firsthand the hardships that come with being a home care agency educator without a budget. At times, she says, "It’s almost impossible to do my presentations. . . . It has tested my powers of creativity many, many times."
She recommends that agency managers and educators do whatever it takes to "set aside something, even if it is minimal, in the budget for education. I have the advantage of being affiliated with a local nursing program, and "it lets me borrow videos and such." She suggests looking to a local community college with a nursing program, who might be willing to do similar things for other facilities. Also, she advises that agency educators "go out into the community . . . talk to community health-based organizations and see if they are willing to do educational programs at your facility.
"United Way puts out a resource manual called Reflections, which lists all the agencies in a given area," she explains. "Also, look at what’s happening in your risk management/quality assurance departments for ideas for educational presentations. Then ask yourself, What about patients’ family members?’ They may have ideas from firsthand knowledge. Not only can they point out problems, but they may have special information that they might be willing to share with the nurses in a presentation."
No matter what your approach to broadening your educational resources, keep in mind that there are facilities that are ready, willing, and able to help home care agencies improve the education levels of their staff. No one promised it would be easy, but that’s not why you’re involved with home care in the first place.
[For more information, contact:
• Jerry Cleveland, President and CEO, Ministry Home Care, 611 St. Joseph Ave., Marshfield, WI 54449. Telephone: (715) 389-3802.
• Shirley Parks, RN, MSN, Director of Education, SunPlus Home Health Service, 9620 Chesapeake, San Diego, CA 92123. Telephone: (858) 576-9244.]