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What We Learned: The Tufts Health Literacy Leadership Institute

By Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health  Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

Thanks to a Leadership Scholarship from the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL), I was able to attend the annual Health Literacy Leadership Institute at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA, the week of June 10-14, 2013. This is only the second year of the Institute, a one-week intensive program that prepares participants to:

  • Identify health literacy as an organizational/systems problem that includes the skills of health care professionals and consumers;
  • Name audience-specific health literacy competencies and the curriculum content to address them
  • Write measureable health literacy learning objectives and an evaluation plan that includes outcome and process measures; and
  • Outline a health literacy curriculum or educational program based on sound adult learning theory and effective teaching strategies. (http://healthliteracyleadership.com/).

In my position as Consumer Health Coordinator, I regularly teach health literacy and other consumer health classes to a variety of audiences. However, I enjoyed one of the best learning experiences of my career at the Institute due to the interaction and sharing of ideas with my fellow participants, the fantastic faculty, and amazing guest lecturers. As the only librarian, I found it particularly interesting to hear the perspectives and curriculum/program ideas from others in a wide variety of industries and disciplines.

For example, the input from one young woman who works at an advertising agency specializing in medical messages, orphan drugs, and rare diseases, gave me many “light bulbs” and “aha” moments about how, traditionally, librarians are not great at marketing themselves or their work. The perspectives of an anesthesiologist working in an environment with Chinese immigrants, many of whom speak Cantonese, was encouraging and inspiring by showing that health professionals are also engaged and interested in health literacy. Everyone that participated was amazing and I learned a great deal from each and every one.

The faculty and guest lecturers were equally impressive. The course director is Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi, an adjunct Clinical Instructor at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she teaches skills-oriented health literacy courses to health professionals in training. The guest lecturers included Dr. Clifford Coleman, a practicing physician and faculty member at Oregon Health & Science University who has integrated health literacy into the Family Medicine Residency curricula; Julie McKinney, a Health Literacy Specialist with expertise in health literacy curriculum resources for adult educators and health professionals; and last, but certainly not least, Dr. Andrew Pleasant, the Director of Health Literacy and Research at Canyon Ranch Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who works to design, implement, and evaluate health literacy programs to help communities create positive change. On one of these amazing days, we were able to focus on adult learning theory, which was of great interest to me personally since I am an “accidental teacher” without formal education on this topic.

On the fourth day of the week, all that we learned and absorbed was shared through presentations by participants. These presentations focused on our curriculum or program ideas with an emphasis on measureable objectives, evaluation plans, and the elements of our logic models. Each participant gave feedback to the others and was able to ask specific questions of the group concerning the specifics our plans. It was very valuable and helpful to bounce our plan ideas off the group and get feedback based on all that we had experienced over the week. On the final day, there was an additional invited group who joined us for a Fellows Forum to explore the idea of the establishment of a health literacy association.

I will never forget my experience at the Tufts Health Literacy Leadership Institute, and I think librarians should be participants at all future Institutes. I certainly hope that I am invited back for the Friday forums in the coming years. Please consider attending if you have an interest in, or a passion for, health literacy. It was intense but invigorating, both professionally and personally. I am so grateful for the opportunity and want to thank AAHSL, J. Dale Prince, and M.J. Tooey for their support. I also want to thank my fellow participants, the faculty, and the guest lecturers of the Institute for one of the best educational experiences ever.

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