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Featured Member

Member Spotlight: Kathleen White, MSN, RN

Kathleen White, MSN, RNKathleen White, MSN, RN, manages patient and family education practices and resources at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC, and leads the university's Health Literacy Action Team.

In this member feature, White discusses her greatest professional achievement and also provides an update on her 2017 HCEA Conference presentation on Reflections on Teach-back Competency: Are Peers an Effective Mirror?

When did you become an HCEA member?

Why do you work in the patient education field?
My joy as a nurse and neonatal nurse practitioner has always come from providing excellent care for my patients and their families. In the Neonatal ICU, my patients couldn't understand what was happening to them. So it was especially important to communicate effectively with their families. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, "There is no prescription more valuable than knowledge." Over 30 years of clinical practice, I learned the powerful truth of this claim.

For the past five years, I've led patient education and health literacy for this purpose: To make it as easy as possible for everyone to access, understand and use health information to care for themselves or their loved ones.

What is your greatest achievement related to patient education?
My greatest achievement comes each time I turn around a patient education piece received at a college-graduate grade reading level and make it available in an easier-to-read, easier-to-understand, and easier-to-put-into-action format. Each one is an opportunity to impact the clinician author as well as all future readers/learners.

Your work was featured at the 2017 HCEA conference. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? For example, what challenges did you have to overcome to accomplish your work?
I presented on a two-phase education and competency validation plan for nurses regarding Teach-back. I've learned more about Kirkpatrick's levels of evaluation since project inception, and wish I had started with the goal of achieving measurable patient outcomes (Level 4). Clinical staff education is SO expensive (time away from bedside is hard to get). If I were starting now, I would first justify the need for it by showing current Teach-back documentation in our electronic health record and comparing that to current readmission rates. Then teach with the defined purpose of changing clinician behavior to use and document Teach-back. But the evidence of clinical outcomes would be improved patient understanding of their diagnosis, plan of care, and medication regimen, resulting in reduced readmissions. Calculating a cost savings based on this would justify the need for ongoing education about the importance of Teach-back for all new clinical staff.

Can you provide an update on your work since you last presented? What's happening now?
The South Carolina Hospital Association has started a pilot health literacy initiative which will guide future state-wide efforts. My voice in this effort has been to focus less on improving the health literacy of individuals and more on the use of health literacy universal precautions. I see this as an accessibility issue some individuals will need more assistance than others, but we should offer aid universally. In the same way that "curb cuts" benefit us all, so will health literacy universal precautions.

As a patient education expert, what is one piece of advice, best practice or resource that you would like to share with other HCEA members?
I use this wonderful free on-line resource all the time! If you haven't discovered it yet, check out To use the software:

  • Click on Automatic Readability Checker
  • Cut/paste your education piece into the red text box
  • Check the security check box
  • Click Check Text Readability

While many design elements are important in producing "good" education, starting with readability helps me to focus on what is most important in the piece and how to say it best.


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(Last updated 6/16/18)


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