I have touched upon the subject of health illiteracy here before and mentioned the vastness of the problem. And, because of that vastness, the problem has no single solution. I am going to make an assumption that nursing education today continues to place great emphasis on nurses as educators, as did my nursing program years ago. The concept was pretty much pounded into our heads, as it certainly should have been.
Most of us don’t have a TV show, radio program or other big stage from which to reach and educate a large audience in one fell swoop. Yet, we nurses have tremendous opportunity to teach and inform our patients and their families. Yes, our efforts are usually focused on a rather narrow slice of the literacy pie and deal with medical issues specific to a given patient, without much chance of improving medical literacy across a broad swath of the population. But, I believe in the power of educating one patient at a time, and that one patient will, no doubt, be grateful for the confidence to better manage his health due to your empowering him with knowledge.
Jeanette Lancaster, RN, PhD, Dean of the University of Virginia School of Nursing, advises that when professional issues are so large as to seem unconquerable, try looking at the smaller picture. “Do all you can do within your realm,” she says. That sage and practical advice can and should be applied to the enormous task of improving medical literacy by educating individual patients regarding their health care. A lot of ground can be covered by taking small steps.