Health Advocacy Program Awarded Grant by Pfizer

The Health Advocacy graduate master’s program of Sarah Lawrence College has been awarded a $50,000 grant by Pfizer, Inc. to do research in a special area of health literacy. The study, “Health Literacy And End Of Life Decisions: Consumer Understanding Of Advance Directives,” seeks to understand why so few adults have executed “advance directives,” such as living wills or health care proxies.

The primary purpose of this research is to identify why only 10 to 25 percent of Americans have an advance directive of any kind despite the 1990 Patient Self Determination Act (PSDA), government mandates, and widespread acceptance by health professionals and the public of the importance of these formal directives.

The study aims to determine the level of literacy about advance directives in the adult population to understand the comprehension barriers to executing them and to develop recommendations for the design of appropriate educational materials to overcome these barriers. A survey instrument and a health literacy test adapted to measure literacy regarding advance directives will be used to interview 200 respondents aged 50 to 75 from urban, suburban and rural areas.

The funded research will build on work that students began in the Health Advocacy “Evaluation and Assessment” course in the fall of 1999. Pat Banta, RN, MA, a December 1999 Health Advocacy graduate, and Lois Steinberg, Ph.D., who completes her Health Advocacy studies this spring semester, will co-direct the study. Other students will participate as interviewers. Marsha Hurst, Ph.D., Director of the Health Advocacy Program, will act as Principle Investigator supervising the work.

Sarah Lawrence College offers the nation's only master's degree program in health advocacy, training professionals to promote patients' rights in an increasingly complex health care system. Graduates of the program have become leaders in the health care industry, working in diverse professional capacities as patient representatives and administrators, on ethics committees and medical policy boards, at hospitals and consumer health agencies.