“Education is vital to the care of all cancer patients,” says Susan Childress, RN, MN, OCN, director of Nursing Services at Huntsman Cancer Hospital. “We are committed to the premise that all patients are entitled to verbal, written, and electronic education that specifically addresses their physical and psychological needs as cancer patients and survivors.” The Patient Education Steering Committee at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), co-chaired by Childress, was created for that very purpose.

The committee formed in 2007 when nursing leadership collaborated with health educators in the Cancer Learning Center (CLC), HCI’s specialized cancer education library, to review teaching materials. Part of this review process included a staff survey, which resulted in hundreds of responses. The committee now serves as the central body to address all patient education needs and to keep HCI staff up-to-date with resources and best practices.

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Patient Education Steering Committee Members

The committee has more than 30 members, including physicians, nurses, social workers, patients, health educators, and communications professionals. With such multidisciplinary perspectives, the committee ensures resources meet the varying needs of patients.

“We are lucky to have motivated committee members. This is a true working committee where everyone moves toward our common goal,” says Donna Branson, director of Patient and Public Education and committee co-chair.

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Matt Pond and Cynthia Kimball Humphreys, Patient Representatives

Cynthia Kimball Humphreys is one such member. At age 31 she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. “A BRCA1 mutation was detected in my family,” she explains. “It was passed down from my father to all five of his daughters.” Humphreys became a patient at HCI in 2007. “One of the nurses learned about my passion to give back. She recommended me to the committee and it was a perfect fit.” Humphreys now serves as a patient education advocate and speaks about her cancer experience to audiences nationwide. “Because of the Patient Education Steering Committee, patients receive the best and most current information that has not only been medically reviewed but well-thought-out in regards to comprehension, literacy level, and language,” she says.

In September 2008 the committee marked the completion and implementation of an education binder that is given to every new patient. “I think the committee’s greatest accomplishment so far has been the patient binders,” says Humphreys. “Everything is organized and personalized for each patient, depending on what cancer they’re dealing with.” Binders also provide a place to keep lab results and other important paperwork.

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The committee will evaluate the effectiveness of the binders and how patients use them, yet Branson has already seen initial success. “Within the first year of using these binders, the CLC saw a 350 percent increase in the distribution of patient education materials,” she says.

The committee continues to help HCI achieve its mission to provide education about cancer risk, prevention, and care. By empowering patients through education, uncertainty is replaced with understanding, and fear with hope.