Empowering Students Through Health Education and Services

Whenever I am asked about my future plans as a health professional, my go-to answer is always something along the lines of, "I'm interested in serving in a community health setting and promoting health empowerment."

Until this year, I did not have a thorough grasp on the meaning of my own answer. “Community health” and “health empowerment” are two buzz-phrases that exist within the lexicon of many students who are interested in pursuing medicine and other health-related careers. But what does it really look like to serve in community health? How exactly do you empower people over their health?

While I’ve gained a taste of public health through research and internships during college, serving with Erie Family Health Centers at Roberto Clemente High School, a school-based health clinic, has helped me further answer those questions. As a federally qualified health center, Erie clinic sees patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay and provides primary care services. For the students who register and come to the clinic, this means that they are able to take control of their health and receive services that they otherwise may not have access to. Many students have jobs or other priorities after-school, so being able to be seen at the clinic during the school day is crucial to maintaining good health.

While I serve at one of the school-based sites, Erie has other Chicago locations that are open to the community. In addition, I, along with other team members, often help out with health fairs and insurance enrollment fairs, at which we provide health education pamphlets and information about Erie’s services to community members, and directly enroll individuals in Medicaid or private insurance. From what I’ve seen, this direct service is an important piece of increasing health equity, as it is not always enough to just provide information if patients do not know how to use or access it.

In my main role, I serve as an NHC Chicago health educator, teaching sexual health education and providing nutrition counseling. I also coordinate free vision and dental services for the students. I seek to empower students by learning about their health needs, either through surveys or one-on-one interactions, and creating educational materials that align with those needs.

While at times it can be frustrating, as it takes a long time to understand a community and implement health initiatives, I am grateful to serve at an organization that is committed to upholding health as a right for all and to serving underserved populations. I am looking forward to engaging with more students throughout the year and understanding more about the rewards and challenges that come with serving in community health!

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Cynthia Wu.

Cynthia is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Clemente.