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Terhi Saaranen.

Terhi Saaranen appointed as Professor of Nursing Science, especially Health Pedagogy

Client work in the health care sector calls for skills in guidance

“The need for pedagogical expertise in health care grows as the focus is shifting to health promotion. Professionals must have the skills needed to give high-quality guidance to patients and clients also remotely and by using technology,” says Professor Terhi Saaranen.

Saaranen was appointed as Professor of Nursing Science, especially Health Pedagogy, at the beginning of this year. Earlier, she held the post on a fixed-term basis.

Health pedagogy refers to research-based pedagogical solutions relating to health, health promotion, and care.

“Health pedagogy can be looked at from the perspective of health care professionals’ training and skills, but also from the perspective of the population’s health literacy,” Saaranen says.

Health literacy refers, among other things, to the ability to understand and utilise health-related information.

“It is important to all age groups and gets emphasised as the focus of health care increasingly shifts to disease prevention and health promotion.”

According to Saaranen, future research and education in health pedagogy must support the guidance of clients and patients in particular.

“With remote services becoming increasingly common, there is a need for skills to provide high-quality guidance also through various digital tools.”

In the Department of Nursing Science at the University of Eastern Finland, Saaranen has a specific responsibility for teacher education in health sciences and, in her capacity as Deputy Head of Department, she is responsible for the department’s education. In her work, she both develops and studies the field’s education and pedagogical solutions.

“Teachers of health sciences train nurses and perhaps even completely new groups of health care professionals in the future, so we need to pay close attention to the field’s competence needs.  For example, readiness to engage in multi-professional collaboration is starting to be a necessity.”

As one response to this need, Saaranen has been involved in the development of multi-professional simulations for large groups. These simulations, organised in cooperation between several university subjects, universities of applied sciences and Kuopio University Hospital, have addressed issues faced by health care and social welfare professionals in their work – by using methods of drama.

“Simulations are carried out by actors and professionals of different fields. Debriefings carried out with students after each simulation constitute an essential part of the whole.”

Next autumn will witness already the sixth large-group multi-professional simulation, and the topic will be related to mental health problems among young people. Previous simulations have addressed, for example, the death of a child, pharmacotherapy for the elderly, and domestic violence. In surveys conducted in connection with the simulations, participants have estimated that they have contributed to, e.g., their teamwork and customer interaction skills.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, we have noticed that large-group simulations work well also when organised remotely. Multi-professional large-group simulations are considerably easier to organise in collaboration between different educational institutions, and they could also serve as professional development training for those in working life.”

The well-being of health care and social welfare teachers is reflected on patients and clients

Saaranen has worked at the Department of Nursing Science since the turn of the millennium when she graduated from teacher education in health sciences.

“Kuopio was the first in Finland to launch education in this field, and there’s a strong interest in the development of pedagogy. We used collaborative learning already in the 1990s, and the department has also been a pioneer in online studies. There, advances in pedagogical solutions have been enormous. For example, today’s flipped learning combines independent online study and collaborative methods."

There are only two professors of health pedagogy in Finland, and only 10–15% of all research in nursing science addresses education in the health care sector.

“Strengthening this is an important objective. Globally, research in the field is still rather scarce, but the situation is constantly improving.”

The currently ongoing New Nurse Educator project involving six countries aims to take the first steps towards harmonising the education of health care sector teachers in Europe.

“Finding common policy is a worthwhile effort already when considering the mobility of nurses. At the moment, there are quite a few differences in this education. Our strength is reliance on scientific research. Studies in nursing science and methodological studies provide immense support for teachers' work,” Saaranen says.

The project is funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the EU and it develops, among other things, common courses for the participating universities. The University of Eastern Finland is responsible for a soon-to-start course that focuses on how to use research evidence in teaching.

Saaranen’s research areas also include the development of health care and social welfare teachers’ workplace well-being.  

“When teachers cope well in their work, it will eventually be reflected, through learning outcomes, on patients and clients.”

A couple years ago, the research group, together with the Trade Union for Education, OAJ, carried out a nationwide workplace well-being survey among teachers in the health care and social welfare sector. Based on this survey, the situation has been further examined in two universities of applied sciences, one of which implements a workplace well-being intervention and the other serves as a benchmark. Similar interventions are also taking place in two Estonian educational institutions.

“The development of workplace well-being doesn’t start from merely fixing what is wrong; instead, things that are working well are identified first, and then a few targets for development are selected.”

Based on the survey conducted with OAJ, teachers in the health care and social welfare sector feel that their work significant and important.

“However, the situation with overall workplace well-being seemed weaker than in previous surveys. Peaks in workload, management of work and adequate recovery were identified as particular challenges. Many had also observed bullying in their workplace. The survey does not provide accurate information on how many people had been bullied, but even one is too much.”

Terhi Saaranen

  • Professor of Nursing Science, especially Health Pedagogy, University of Eastern Finland, 1 January 2022–
  • Master of Health Sciences (Nursing Science), University of Kuopio, 2000
  • Doctor of Health Sciences (Nursing Science), University of Kuopio, 2006
  • Master of Education, University of Eastern Finland, 2020
  • Title of Docent in Health Promotion and Workplace Well-being, University of Jyväskylä, 2012

Key roles

  • Professor of Nursing Science, especially Health Pedagogy (fixed-term), University of Eastern Finland 8/2019–12/2021
  • University Lecturer, Didactics of Nursing Science, University of Eastern Finland, 2011–2019
  • University Lecturer, Didactics of Nursing Science (fixed-term), University of Eastern Finland, 2009–2011
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, 2009
  • Coordinator of the Academic Network of Health Sciences, 2007–2008

For further information, please contact:

Professor Terhi Saaranen, terhi.saaranen (a), tel. +358 50 094 0242