Health literacy advocacy and how to discover your passion

By | 2022-10-19T16:45:00-04:00 January 13th, 2017|Tags: , |2 Comments

Terri Ann Parnell, DNP, MA, RN, FAAN, principal and founder of Health Literacy Partners and CNO of the advisory board for TVR Communications, which provides pCare Interactive Patient Systems, answered questions about her passion for health literacy. She also shared how nurses can promote and improve this concept in their practice and explore their own interests in unique nursing roles and various healthcare settings.

Terri Ann Parnell, DNP, MA, RN, FAAN, principal and founder of Health Literacy Partners and CNO of the advisory board for TVR Communications

Terri Ann Parnell, RN

How did you discover your passion for health literacy? Why is it such an integral part of patient care?

My interest in health literacy began during nursing school. I visited patients in their homes and learned about the resources in their communities, or the lack of resources, which gave me a unique perspective into their everyday lives. I saw the food they had in their refrigerator, whether they had electricity or heat, and met the people who lived with them. These factors are important components of health literacy and are essential when providing person-centered care.

Health literacy knowledge is an essential component when delivering healthcare services for an increasingly diverse patient population. It has always been an important part of my nursing career. It was the lens through which I viewed every nursing role I had, whether as a staff nurse, educator, manager or administrator.

How can nurses promote and improve health literacy in their practice?

To promote health literacy, nurses review and develop processes and standards for written patient education materials, integrate plain language into all verbal communication and provide health literacy education during orientation sessions for new nurses.

When working with patients, it is important to understand that an individual’s health literacy is  fluid and contextual, which means the same person may have different health literacy levels depending upon the situation.

For example, if a person has had previous surgery and is again being scheduled for another operation, they have had some experience with the presurgical process and may have adequate health literacy related to presurgical testing. However, the same person, with the same occupation and level of education, may have low health literacy related to presurgical testing if experiencing it for the first time.

Nurses automatically use universal precautions for infection control with all patients regardless of who may be infected with a transmittable disease. We can use this same approach for health communication. Nurses must assume that everyone may have difficulty understanding health information, and thus should always speak in plain language. That means using terms most people will understand the first time they hear or read them. Speaking in plain language is one important practice that will improve health literacy.

I saw the food they had in their refrigerator, whether they had electricity or heat, and met the people who lived with them. These factors are important components of health literacy and are essential when providing person-centered care.”

What would you say to nurses interested in pursuing a nursing role outside of the typical healthcare setting?

I encourage nurses to always think creatively.  This is what has allowed me the opportunities to bring my nursing and health literacy expertise outside of the typical healthcare setting. In addition to the TVR Communications advisory board CNO role, it was also instrumental as I launched my own company, Health Literacy Partners, LLC.

Nurses are perfectly positioned to be innovators. They have a wide range of skills, including multitasking and problem solving, and they are good listeners and effective communicators. These skills lend themselves to a variety of unique opportunities such as being a small business owner; providing consulting, coaching or educational services in an area of expertise; or perhaps becoming a healthcare writer.

Many future opportunities can build upon your current expertise, passion and skill set. If you have a particular interest or a niche that makes you happy, you need to keep at it and incorporate this passion into your current role. For example, if you enjoy writing, try to find another colleague who has a similar interest, get together and draft a plan for publication. Or perhaps offer to write about a new project or initiative that’s being rolled out.

Build commitment and momentum. Once you do that, you won’t turn back. For nurses, the possibilities are limitless.

It may also be helpful for nurses to broaden their perspective, since preventive care and healthcare services are not only delivered in hospitals and healthcare facilities, but often times outside those settings. 

This sounds like a lot to consider. Where do you advise they begin? 

Make a list of personal and professional goals you would like to achieve in 2017. Your list of goals should be measurable and realistic. For instance, if you would like to become a healthcare writer, a goal can be to publish one peer-reviewed article in a nursing journal. If you are thinking of combining your nursing expertise with the legal or financial industries, a goal may be to join a new professional organization or reach out to two new contacts in these industries for possible mentoring relationships.

If you are not sure where to begin, you can ask yourself some general questions. If you had a magic wand, what would your dream career look like? What is most important to you? Are you interested in working within a specific industry or with a certain group of customers, clients or communities? Do you want to find more balance or purpose in your life?

Ask yourself questions that will help guide you to expand your nursing role in creative ways. As our demographic landscape continues to evolve, nurses should continue to expect and plan for changes in how and where healthcare services will be delivered.

In addition, with the shift of emphasis from illness to wellness and an increased focus on a culture of health for all Americans, there will continue to be new and innovative opportunities for nurses to provide healthcare services that enable everyone to lead healthier lives.

What is your passion and unique nursing vision? Share them in the comments section below.



Discover how can help you find your next dream job.
Just sign up and wait to be paired with your perfect match.

About the Author:

Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN
Janice Petrella Lynch, MSN, RN, is director of the Help & Resource Center at The Marfan Foundation. Also a nursing educator, she has held faculty positions at Wagner College, Skidmore College, Molloy College and Adelphi University. She is a member of the New York Organization of Nurse Leders and the Greater New York Nassau-Suffolk Organization of Nurse Executives.


  1. Avatar
    Theresa Lohman DNP, FNP-BC, CNM (ret), CA January 19, 2017 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    I am a (for the most part) retired nurse practitioner. I still do some primary care.
    In the last couple of years, I have personally gotten involved with aromatherapy and know others in the CAM (complementary/alternative medicine) area. I am not an oil company representative. I am a certified aromatherapist.
    According to Ventola (2010), nearly 40% of adults and 12% of children use some form of CAM.
    Most of their providers are unaware of it.
    I was teaching a class on essential oil safety and while more than 50% of the room used essential oils, half of those did not tell their providers.
    I would like to be able to reach out to the medical community (MD, DO, NP, PA etc)and do some education regarding the uses and safety issues of essential oils.
    My wish is to have their patients use essential oils (if appropriate) as a complementary form of therapy in a safe and effective manner. First, the providers have to be aware of the usage of CAM and instead of saying “don’t do it” have someone who is educated in this area come in and either help the provider learn, or allow the therapist to spend time with the patients who use CAM in educating them.
    I am thrilled to see Integrative Medicine coming into vogue in some areas.
    My immediate goal is to get into the nursing schools to talk about CAM and how important it is to get the information on the chart. Just putting “list your medications and supplements” isn’t working.

  2. Avatar
    Leandro Mueller May 31, 2017 at 2:24 am - Reply

    This is a really helpful post! Thank you so much for writing about this. Our readers, primarily baby boomers, will surely be delighted knowing that there are doctors and nurse around who truly care for their wellbeing! We shared this post in our monthly roundup – you can read it here:

Leave A Comment