How You Can Create a Successful Hospital Education Program for Student-Patients

For many hospitals and care providers working with student-patients, a quality hospital education program can be a key differentiator; yet developing an education program can be challenging—especially if it’s not your area of expertise. Navigating the design of the program, scheduling, building a curriculum, managing student needs, addressing parent concerns, and local and federal requirements can quickly become overwhelming for hospital program administrators.

If you’re tasked to do this without the support of an organization that specializes in developing and delivering education programs for hospitals and care facilities like ours, then it’s helpful to have some guidance and insight into the process and its challenges, along with tips for success.

Let’s take a look at what’s included in a hospital education program.

What is a Hospital Education Program?

A hospital education program is similar to an education program delivered via a traditional educational institution or organization, but with the intent of delivering education to children who are in need. In the case of a hospital or health center, it is important that your education program meet both the educational requirements set forth by state and federal entities, as well as the unique needs of the student-patients in your care.

A hospital education program consists of many moving parts that—when they all come together properly – achieve the goals of helping a student-patient achieve normalcy and transition back into their “normal” school education as quickly and easily as possible. A typical program is built to factor in each the following:

The Student-Patient.

A student-patient is a child who has been hospitalized or placed into professional care due to an illness or disorder and will miss school for an extended period of time. From missing a few days a month, all the way to a year at a time, it’s important for these children to maintain as much consistency as possible, while meeting state and federal mandates for education. The relationship between the student-patient and their teacher here is key—it can and should be—a bright spot in the child’s day.

The Teacher.

Given the more direct and focused relationship a student-patient can have with a teacher in a hospital education program, it’s important that you hire the right teacher. In a typical school setting, you will expect that there is one teacher for every 15-25 (or more) students. The fact that this ratio drops to 1 teacher for every 6-12 students in a healthcare-related setting is a tremendous asset. Kids actually value the fact that the “teacher pays attention to me.”

Also, in a traditional education setting, teachers focus more on the teaching aspect of a child’s development, and have a myriad of options when it comes to dealing with different aspects of a child’s behavior. This just isn’t the case with a student who’s undergoing treatment for a health-related issue. In a hospital or other healthcare facility or center, the teachers also need to be agile and resilient since they need to deal with a variety of emotional and behavioral challenges.

Schedule.

Unlike standard in-school education, hospital-based education programs have to meet the varying schedules of student-patients. While Medicaid and insurance companies can dictate how many hours of education a child receives, teachers aren’t the only people on site providing specialized services to student-patients. A variety of hospital staff, art therapists, music therapists, recreational therapists, and more all come together to help these children get well and manage their illness. It’s important to be able to determine the best time for each child to have access to education, while developing a regular schedule that, while flexible, is as structured and reliable as possible.

Staff Support.

The role your hospital staff plays in building your education program is often undervalued. The goal of your entire program is to get kids back into their traditional classroom setting as quickly as possible. This means, that members of your team need to be working towards maximizing their effort to accomplish this. Many times though, staff support for an education program is underutilized.

There are two “schools of thought” when it comes to staff support for hospital education programs. In case one, staff is in the class setting to passively monitor patients, but aren’t directly involved in the program or with students. In case two, staff actively participate with student-patients, supporting and engaging them within the classroom. Going beyond ensuring safety, active staff members in the class participate in programs, redirect behaviors, and remind the students of their project plan. Furthermore, since student-patients are often required to stick to their plan before being released from a facility, this additional participation of staff can directly benefit the student.

Curriculum.

Developing classroom curriculum for student-patients is often a key area where hospitals struggle when developing an education program. The core reason a student-patient is at your facility, scheduling, and communication between involved parties can create a number of roadblocks in setting expectations and developing a quality curriculum. By making your curriculum engaging, using reputable sources for course material, and keeping materials aligned with age, development, and grade level, you have a better chance of success and of helping your student-patient achieve normalcy.

Guardians.

Guardians are an important, yet often overlooked, component of your education program. They can dictate if and when their child receives education, and bring a variety of their own needs and challenges to the table. Thankfully, most parents who accept an education program truly want their children to succeed, and as a result, are actively involved. They don’t blame their children for their illnesses or disorder, and will work to figure out how to get the help they need during their treatment.

In many cases, guardians don’t want their children to feel like patients, and instead want to support them in feeling “normal”. They become a key advocate for their children with their school, often going to extremes to track down school work. To this end, it’s important for a hospital to be actively involved and engaged with parents and guardians in support of a student-patient’s success.

School Districts.

In developing a quality education program for hospitals and behavioral centers, it’s important to have a good relationship with the school districts. Beyond delivering quality education, two things are of paramount importance: communication and integrity. School districts often don’t have the resources to manage or deal with all of the issues surrounding treatment and education of student-patients, so doing what you say you’re going to do goes a long way in building rapport and trust. 

Some hospitals will go so far as to visit schools, talk to children and staff, and educate on the role a hospital or health care center plays in helping to fill the gap and provide clarity for student-patients to continue their education as they learn to cope with their issues. One school actually puts a bear in the student’s seat for the entire time a child is out of the classroom.

Is some cases, a school district can be spread thin (two nurses over multiple schools). In other cases, they don’t have enough home tutors to see student-patients at home, so they just can’t service all the students all the time. In these cases, having a relationship with the district can become a vital part of a student-patient’s recovery.

Pro Tip to Help Drive a Successful Education Program

While the actual components of a hospital education program are typically straightforward, there are a few elements that can help you ease the process and potentially achieve a higher rate of success.

Hire a Teacher recruiter who’s been there.

According to educationworld.com, “teacher quality is the #1 determinant of student success.” We could easily extend this to student-patients whose focus is arguably on the reason they are with you, and not necessarily on their continued education. In this case, recruiting is critical and having a recruiter who has been a teacher in a past life is important to the success of your hospital education program.

In many cases, the team that a hospital has in place is top notch when it comes to therapy and treatment of a child, but they just aren’t teachers. They struggle to manage an education program themselves, yet they just don’t have the experience, skill sets, and resources to do the legwork that’s needed to deliver a quality education program.

If you look at the sheer amount of communication between teachers, hospital staff, parents, school districts and more, it can truly be overwhelming. What we’ve found is that having a recruiter who’s actually had the experience of being a teacher helps ensure that the teachers you bring into your education program have both the technical skills needed to deliver education, as well as the soft skills needed to manage children who are dealing with greater challenges.

Take for example our teacher recruiters. They’ve taught inner city, pre-schools, special needs, and a multitude of diverse populations. They know what they are looking for in hiring the right teacher. They’re uniquely qualified to identify passionate teachers who care, yet have a thick enough skin to manage the daily challenges of working with student-patients. Your recruiter should look for more than the ability to deliver education; they must seek high levels of emotional intelligence, tenacity, and agility (ability to change and adapt) because every day there’s a new student facing new challenges who has been added to the program.

By bringing in a teacher recruiter who has personally dealt with these challenges, you have a better chance of helping your student-patient normalize and return to their lives when they leave your care.

Final Considerations for Setting Up an Education Program for a Hospital

If you have all of these components considered and in place, you’re well on your way to delivering a successful education program for your hospital. Keep in mind a few final thoughts:

  • Provide flexibility in what teachers can teach. In a traditional setting, a teacher is required to teach whatever that lesson is. In a hospital setting, it’s important that a teacher has the flexibility to work in the moment and manage the unique challenges they face when working with student-patients.
  • Engage in strong communication with your entire community. When schools, parents, and student-patients understand the value of your education program, more people will be involved, elevating the quality and outcomes.
  • Remember that as Philip Dormer Stanhope said, “whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Avoid thinking that it’s easy to set up a program when you’re not an expert. An education program has to be high quality or your student-patients may face an uphill battle on the road to normalcy and recovery.

If you have questions about your education program, or are interested in understanding where you might be able to improve it (or even develop a new one), contact us for a no-obligation education program evaluation today.