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By: Farhan Tejani

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of blog posts written by Human Health students in the Health 1,2,3,4 program’s Health 497 course – Community Health Education Strategies. To see an overview of the program and this series, please read this post.

I was lucky enough to spend my senior year at Emory as a student health coach in Health 497 – Community Health Education Strategies. This class, as a part of Emory’s Health 1,2,3,4 Program within the Center for the Study of Human Health, allows for students to get involved with community engagement opportunities at Emory and in Atlanta. My track, Healthy Emory Diabetes Prevention Program, gave me the opportunity to be a student health coach for Emory employees who were enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). This was one of the most fulfilling opportunities that I have been involved in at my time at Emory. 

The DPP is a national program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to combat the high incidence of type 2 diabetes in adults. Emory offers Emory employees the opportunity to enroll in the program and receive benefits for doing so. In the program, participants learn about the fundamentals of diabetes prevention and how these principles can be applied as part of a healthy lifestyle. A key component of the program is its utilization of group health coaching in which the participants gather with a trained DPP lifestyle coach for weekly meetings. As a group, the participants learn the material together, ask questions, and share their personal successes and challenges. My role as a student health coach was to develop a topic with another student in HLTH 497 and lead two optional support sessions for participants.

The CDC’s program is a partnership of public and private organizations working to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes

We chose to take on the topic of using mindsets as a tool to overcome obstacles. During my first coaching session, I was undoubtedly nervous. I didn’t feel confident in my ability to lead a group conversation, and this showed. My presentation was clunky, my listening was compromised, and I said “um” more times than I can count. Nonetheless, I was delighted because I was able to connect with DPP participants and offer a tool that could potentially benefit someone’s desired lifestyle changes.

After the session, one participant sent me an email discussing the impact of our conversation on mindsets. They conveyed their appreciation for our 30-minute session and how it allowed them to reflect on the impact COVID had on their diabetes management. The quarantine had deterred them from pursuing a healthy habit. In the email, the participant conveyed appreciation about the safe space that was cultivated during the session as it allowed them to express some of their stressors and experiences. Our conversation reenergized them to pursue some of the healthy habits that they had lost during quarantine.

I have to emphasize that this positive experience was a result of the entire group, a total of 14 individuals, all coming together to share our experiences, ask questions, and lend support to each other. The power of having a group coaching session is that everyone is able to contribute and lift each other up. Creating a space where people are encouraged to talk about their challenges, talk about their failures, and trust that the stigma associated with these events are able to be overcome is one of the principles behind group coaching. 

I now have a realization that the true strength of a group health coach is in their ability to facilitate important conversation within the group; good coaching begins with good listening. Health 497 and the Healthy Emory DPP have been an irreplaceable experience during my time at Emory. It has taught me about the importance of peer support and group coaching by providing me an opportunity to become engaged with individuals all across Emory. Going into the field of medicine, I have a new realization of the implications of diabetes management and resources that can be valuable in the journey. I am proud to be have been part of the course that had a positive impact on individuals within my community.

To learn more about the Health 1,2,3,4 program, visit the program webpage.  For more information about collaborative partnership opportunities, contact program director Lisa DuPree at madupre@emory.edu.