Learning to Unlearn

Posted on: April 28, 2022Pittsburgh
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As the Health Educator for Primary Care Health Services (PCHS), one of my responsibilities is providing nutrition education to adult and pediatric patients struggling with healthy eating, chronic diseases, and physical activity. When I first found out that I would be teaching patients, I was intimidated. Many of these patients were distrustful of the medical system and had compounding stresses that worsened their health outcomes. Topics like healthy eating and exercise would be difficult to navigate in light of the socioeconomic challenges that patients from PCHS often faced.

In response, I wanted to make sure that I gave my patients as much information about these topics as I could. I created an agenda for each of my teaching sessions tailored to the patient's specific chronic disease and whether they were an adult, a child, or a teenager. However, I was so focused on discussing all of the points in my agenda that I hadn’t thought about the fact that patients might not benefit from my rigid lecture plans.

It only took me a few teaching sessions to realize that I needed a new approach. I had assumed so much about the patients I talked to that I didn’t really meet their needs. I hadn’t taken into account important factors such as whether they had the means to cook at home, if they were on a tight budget, if their work or school schedule interfered with meal times, or if they had the time or even a safe place to be physically active. For pediatric patients, I hadn’t thought about their understanding of healthy habits or their newly forming relationships with food. Talking to patients quickly taught me that I needed to ask more in-depth questions and create a safe environment to encourage them to open up about their current lifestyle. I needed to speak with sensitivity and build trust so that they could tell me more about their daily patterns as well as what they wanted to change or were unhappy with.

Most importantly, I needed to put the patient’s goals at the forefront. I needed to orient my patients towards feasible and reachable goals that were important to them. It didn’t matter that I wanted a patient to lower their A1C through nutrition; they had to want this too. I learned more from speaking to my patients than I did from assembling nutrition information for my teaching sessions. I gained a willingness to unlearn what I thought I knew about my patients and an appreciation for the courage it took for them to share their lives with me.

About the Author:

Hannah Easow

Pronouns: she/her/her

NHC Program: NHC Pittsburgh 

Host Site: Primary Care Health Services 

Position Title: Health Educator 

Where are you from? I’m from Chappaqua, New York

Why did you decide to join NHC? 

Host Site

East End Community Health Center
117 N Negley
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
East End Community Health Center
117 N Negley
Pittsburgh, PA 15206