Medical Self Care: Hold a Community Health Fair

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Dr. Tom Ferguson recommends involving as many interested parties as possible when holding a community health fair. INSET: Dr. Tom Ferguson in 1980

In 1976, Tom Ferguson–then a fourth-year medical
student at Yale–launched a magazine called Medical
Self-Care… which he hoped would serve as “a Whole Earth
Catalog of the best medical books, tools, and

Tom spoke of his plans for the
publication and of his conviction that self-care could
raise the general level of health in this country and lower our inflated levels of medical spending in a MOTHER EARTH NEWS interview in 1978 . . . and left no doubt
that he would work toward making those “dreams” come

Well, Tom Ferguson is Doctor Ferguson
now, and the medical self-care “movement”–as well as Tom’s
magazine–has flourished. People are beginning to assume
more responsibility for their own well-being and are eager
for information that will help them take better care of
their bodies. 

So in an effort to provide just
such very necessary data, MOTHER EARTH NEWS offers as a regular feature a piece by Tom Ferguson, M.D.,
entitled (what else?) “Medical Self-Care.”

Hold a Community Health Fair

A local health fair (which blends the spirit of an open classroom,
an old-fashioned barn raising, and a science exhibit) can
provide your neighborhood or town with information on a
mixture of traditional and alternative healing
philosophies. In fact, one of the main reasons for holding
such an event is to create a local network of individuals
interested in health and self-care . . . and to offer those
folks the opportunity to get to know one another personally
and professionally by working together while serving the

In addition, such neighborhood gatherings
dramatically reflect the medical consumer’s new interest
in and attitude toward health and self-care. (Besides,
they’re a lot of fun!)

Get Organized

Most of the experienced “experts” who we’ve talked to recommend
that prospective organizers put in from two to ten months’
advanced planning before an actual fair is held. (Just
remember that every facet of the event’s coordination will
take much longer than you’d think possible.)

First, take
stock of your immediate community resources: nurses,
physicians, health educators, pharmacists, counselors,
dentists, public health experts, paramedics, midwives,
masseurs and masseuses, meditation instructors, yoga
practitioners, and such organized groups as the American
Red Cross . . . the American Cancer Society . . . the
heart, lung, and diabetes associations . . . your local
mental health center . . . Alcoholics Anonymous . . . your
neighborhood library … and–definitely–your local fire
department (its members are trained to explain emergency
medical procedures).

Also, consider asking other community
groups to cosponsor the fair. The PTA, local schools,
wholistic health centers, churches, and service
organizations (such as the Lions, Rotary, or Kiwanis clubs)
are all good bets. (Be sure to utilize every group that
even hints at wanting to contribute . . . in order
to make the event a true community endeavor.)

Make Contacts

It would be a good idea to get in
touch as far in advance of the fair’s starting date as
possible with the National Health Screening Council. The organization has provided
materials, phone consulting, screening protocols,
equipment, and laboratory support facilities for over 800
community health fairs in the past year alone.

You should
also contact the National Self-Help Clearinghouse for
information on any self-help groups that might be willing
to tie in with your fair. The Health Systems Agency is yet
another valuable source of information. If you can’t locate
this group, write Aetna Life and Casualty for the address of the
office nearest you. Blue Cross and Blue Shield can also aid you
. . . by referring you to a local Blue Cross or Blue Shield
Plan that can supply a quantity of self-care
booklets (for free or at a nominal charge, depending on the
number of pamphlets required).

When and Where

Spring seems to be the best season for a
health fair. The promise of warm weather usually brings
everyone’s energy level up, and there’s a feeling of
wanting to participate . . . of wanting to learn and teach.
If held in the fall, your event would likely have to
compete with many other kinds of happenings (and, at that
time of year, Christmas always seems to be just around the
corner). Then, in summer, many potential fairgoers will be
vacationing. You can’t have a fair without people, of
course, so it’s usually best to plan a spring event.

weekend is the obvious “right” time for a fair, and
Saturday is the best day by far. Remember that you’ll need
a number of hours to set up the exhibits and an equal
amount of time to disassemble them, so try to limit your
actual fair hours . . . from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. is
about right. And be sure to allot specific shifts
(generally two or three hours) to the people who do the
exhibits, screening, or whatever . . . so nobody gets
overworked. Also, if you’ve announced beforehand that folks
should fast before undergoing specific screening exams, you
should certainly plan on a big crowd for such “tests” the
first thing in the morning!

You’ll require an exhibit hall
large enough for people to wander around in, as well as
smaller designated areas or rooms in which to hold
individual workshops. Outdoor fairs are nice, but the
weather does have a way of changing when you least expect
it to. A gym is an ideal location . . . or a large church
basement or a shopping center’s mall would also do fine.
Just be sure to hold your event in a place that everyone
can easily find.

Publicize It

A fair won’t be much of a success if you don’t get the word
out, so try to include an experienced publicity person on
your initial planning committee.

First, make a list of all
the media in your community: radio and television stations,
newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc. Then compile a
roster of the central communication networks (such as
churches, schools, unions, businesses, community
organizations) where you can place posters promoting the
event. Finally, if you plan to mail flyers announcing your
fair, get hold of all the mailing lists you can use: church
memberships, garden clubs, seniors’ organizations, service
clubs, and so on.

Put as much attention as possible into
posters and fliers. (Your local printer might be willing to
contribute this material if he can put “donated by . . .”
at the bottom of each sheet.) Also, be sure to ask the
local schools to send notices home with their students.

Then, a couple of days before the fair, prepare an advance
mock-up of one or more of the proposed activities . . . and
invite the local crews from your TV stations and newspapers
to come and film and take pictures. Remember, these media
will need advance visual material if their coverage is
going to increase the number of people attending the fair.

Additional Ideas

Other than workshops by individuals and exhibits by the various groups, you might
try to set up actual screening stations that offer, for
example, the following: A self-administered health history,
a height/weight, blood pressure check, anemia check
(hematocrit), blood tests (probably involving a fee), oral screening by a dentist, hearing/vision
check, or foot exams by a podiatrist (probably in
conjunction with a foot massage).

The list of “attractions”
your fair can offer will depend, of course, upon resources
in your community. However, whether the event is small or
large, everyone who attends should have a good time and
learn something . . . not only about his or her health, but
about the health resources of the town as well!