The Evolving Role of the Family Planning Health Educator

Health Educators have played an integral role in the education and promotion of Title X services since the inception of the program. In light of the changing healthcare landscape, the role of the Title X Health Educator continues to be redefined to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable women and men. Leveraging the skills and knowledge of the Health Educator ensures that family planning programs not only provide quality education and counseling within clinical settings, but also maintain a meaningful presence in the community, reaching those at greatest risk for negative reproductive health outcomes.

Specifically, Health Educators play a critical role in building community partnerships to promote family planning services in the communities they serve, and link women and men to care. Health Educators must establish meaningful linkages with non-traditional partners, such as food pantries, farmer’s markets, employment agencies, etc., as such agencies come into regular contact with member of priority populations to meet their immediate needs. Forming such linkages also requires establishing mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships with these non-traditional partners, and becoming involved, in a genuine way, with community engagement efforts. This entails establishing a common goal for the benefit of the community (e.g. preventing unintended pregnancy), reaching out to community members and organizations who are context experts in the needs of the community, sharing expertise and resources, and developing, in collaboration, a system to reach and link those individuals at greatest risk to comprehensive services.

Advertising research indicates that individuals need to hear a message seven times before they act. When applied to the context of access health service this research suggests that one-time encounters are not sufficient to get individuals through health center doors. Instead, what is most effective is a slower and more strategic process of building trust with individuals and organizations, even before they become family planning clients.

In addition to a substantial shift in how Health Educators approach community partnerships, Health Educators are increasingly aware of the importance of using data, specifically to identify priority populations and to evaluate whether outreach and community engagement efforts translate to increased linkages to care. For this reason, it is critical that programs work closely with Health Educators in using data to inform strategic plans to reach the most vulnerable, as well as leverage the skills of Health Educators to build community alliances and partnerships.

In response to the evolving role of the Title X Health Educator, the NYS COE convened a Health Educators Institute on April 12-14, in Rensselaerville, NY. This intensive training event focused on developing strategic plans to identify and reach priority populations, as well as using evidence-based practices to engaging communities in a meaningful way.

To access the Health Educators Institute agenda and presentation slides, click here.