Batesville, Ark. - As Hannah Wu applies to 20 different medical schools, she’s hopeful that her experience in Lyon College’s Health Coaching program will help her stand out from the competition. Wu, a Lyon senior double majoring in biology and psychology with a pre-medical concentration, said the program provides her with patient insight that she cannot learn in a regular classroom setting.
“I am able to discuss things others can’t in my applications,” Wu said. “I learned how socioeconomic factors affect patients. I can’t imagine how patients without insurance handle chronic illnesses. I learned how important it is to be open-minded and try to understand things from the patient’s perspective. As a physician, if you can’t have an open mind and compassion, you can’t connect with people. You have to have empathy and see things from their perspective.”
The Health Coaching program is a partnership between Lyon College and White River Medical Center that began in the fall 2013. The program is designed to train pre-health career students to become “health coaches” to work with patients with chronic illnesses.
Dr. Alexander Beeser, assistant professor of biology and chair of the Pre-Health Professions Interest Group, said the goal of the program is two-fold. “The program gives students direct healthcare practice, which is not at all like shadowing. Shadowing is very passive. The students observe; however, they don’t get to be involved. Here, they are part of the healthcare team. On the healthcare side, the goal is to help patients with chronic health conditions better manage their health to reduce the overall cost of healthcare and improve the patients’ overall state of health. If they can get their Diabetes or COPD under control, they are far less likely to go to the ER because of those conditions.”
The program is a two-course sequence. Students complete a lecture portion during the first semester and are assigned to a patient in the second semester who is pre-screened by the Community Care Network Manager, Tammy Brazier, RN, CDCES. Wu worked with Betty Jones, a Diabetic patient. Jones had worked with Brazier previously on Diabetes education. “She thought I might be willing and interested in participating in the program,” Jones said. “I think it’s a very good experience for both the patient and the future doctor. I think it was very insightful for Hannah, and I enjoyed working with her. She always had a positive suggestion or encouragement to give me at the end of our time together each week.”
Students meet with their patients once a week to develop health goals and work on ways to achieve those goals. “I used motivational interview skills to determine what she [Betty] wanted to accomplish during our time,” Wu said. “We initially set goals of helping her keep her blood sugar in a normal range, going to the gym five times a week, and developing a good diet plan. We had some challenges and hurdles because of the pandemic. We couldn’t complete all the goals, like going to the gym. I was devastated at first because we couldn’t complete all the goals. Then I realized I needed to be flexible and that I could help her find other resources to help her achieve her main goal of stabilizing her blood sugar.”
Wu said she introduced Jones to Tai Chi as a method to reduce stress, which can negatively affect blood sugar levels. “This replaced our initial goal of going to the gym,” Wu said. Jones said practicing Tai Chi encouraged her to do further research on her own to find other videos focusing on balance.
Wu anticipates graduating from Lyon next spring. She believes her experience in the Health Coaching program will help her positively impact public healthcare. “I’m much more aware of public healthcare policies that are not helping people in rural areas or those who are underprivileged. As a physician, I will always be thinking about how I can change those policies so people get the proper treatments they need,” she said.
Beeser said he believes one of the biggest benefits of the Health Coaching program is its ability to empower students with the knowledge that they can make an impact in patients’ lives. “I think the most satisfying thing about the program is when students realize they can make a tiny, inexpensive change and it can fundamentally change whether or not a patient can better manage their chronic health conditions, and that the patient likely would not have gained this knowledge by any other means. This program absolutely benefits the patients, and it absolutely benefits the students.”