The Importance of Empowerment

As we approach our tail end of service, I have been able to reflect on my expectations and beliefs about service. In the beginning of my service year, I had an outlook that, as a Health Educator, I would be providing my audience with information that would directly result in a specific behavior change. However I began to realize that I needed to enter each school with the hopes of empowering students, caregivers, and staff with this valuable information, rather than going into a program expecting a certain result. The main reason that I am there is to advocate for, encourage, educate, and empower these students, caregivers, and staff. And, as a result of this, I was able to learn more about the information that needed to be added to our presentation in order to make it more effective.

We have noticed that the majority of asthmatic students at schools are not identified on the Asthma Action Plan (AAP). The purpose of the AAP is to inform school personnel of a child’s asthma management plan. This may include their warning signs, triggers, asthma medication, etc. Another essential document is the Self Carry Self Administer documentation. By filling this out, a student is able to carry their inhaler with them at all times and administer when needed. Every asthmatic student should have these two things on file at the school, however, we have noticed that this is typically not the reality of the situation. At the end of the program, we provide parents with an AAP as well as the Self Carry Self Administer document to return to the school. Furthermore, we provide parents and caregivers information about other local community health organizations and networks that may be helpful to find health insurance, medical clinics, or mobile care vans. With this paperwork, school personnel are more informed about the health needs of their students. With this information, ideally there will be more recognition and acknowledgment of asthmatic students and hopefully fewer emergency department visits.

As for the student programs, it is important to empower the students by providing them with this information as well as a space to discuss and respond to it. I notice that some of our most valuable conversations in the classroom are the ones surrounding tobacco and cigarettes. Because cigarette smoke is a common asthma trigger, we spend part of a lesson discussing them. Students typically do not have other supplementary drug education programs, so this may be the first time they are hearing this information. A lot of students ask how they can initiate a seemingly awkward conversation with a family member about smoking in the house. Or other times it may be a question about how to say to no cigarettes or illegal drugs. Responding to these questions sometimes seems like a daunting task and I often wonder if I will be able to answer all the questions they have for me. I have to remind myself that I am not there to prevent all of them from ever trying a single cigarette in their lives. Rather, I am there to present them with medically and scientifically- backed information that they can then choose what to do with. This vital and necessary information we provide as health educators is crucial for the health and well being of students. Typically, the students have been comfortable enough to be open with me about their reactions and questions surrounding this topic.

Overall, I have enjoyed my time as a Health Educator so much and I hope to continue to expand my knowledge on health empowerment and advocacy.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Mary Rosenwinkel.

Mary is a Health Educator at Respiratory Health Association.