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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.
By Sarah Maar
During my senior year at Emory, I had the pleasure of taking HLTH 497 – Community Health Education Strategies. As the final step in the Health 1,2,3,4 program, this course allowed me to apply the knowledge I learned in the classroom to a professional setting as a student health coach for the Healthy Emory Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). This was one of the most rewarding courses I took throughout my time at Emory and it allowed me to explore how health coaching can be used to build community.
As part of the Healthy Emory initiative, the DPP is a lifestyle change program for Emory faculty and staff with pre-diabetes or who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The DPP was developed by the CDC to help prevent type 2 diabetes through behavior modifications in one’s daily life, including diet and physical activity. Tasked with developing a supplemental group coaching session to help current and former DPP participants maintain their health, I chose to focus my supplemental sessions on “slip-ups”, which was a term discussed during the first part of the DPP core curriculum. An example of a slip-up is when you don’t follow your plan for healthy eating or physical activity. When discussing slip-ups, it is crucial to emphasize that they are inevitable and can happen at any point in one’s lifestyle change journey. I wanted to offer a supplemental session focused on this topic to serve as a reminder that it’s okay to still be dealing with slip-ups and to allow space for participants to share with each other their own approaches to preventing or handling slip-ups.
My coursework within the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory has had a primary focus on health on a population level, so one of the most rewarding aspects of this opportunity was being able to work with individuals. I was able to explore Emory’s initiative to prevent type 2 diabetes within the community as a whole, and then dive into how individual members of the community were approaching their health. Each participant in my session came in with their own challenges they wanted to overcome, whether this was stress from work leading them to eat too much ice cream, preparing for going out to restaurants with friends or family, or finding motivation to go on more walks. Often the DPP participants knew what they should be doing for their health but were struggling to find ways to incorporate specific strategies into their daily lives. This gap is where I really saw the strength of health coaching come to light. As a student health coach, I was able to walk through an issue with the participant to develop a personalized approach, but I felt an even greater benefit came from the conversations and ideas shared by other group participants.
Within the DPP core curriculum, participants are a part of the same group throughout their journey. In preparation for my own sessions, I was able to observe a DPP group during one of their final sessions and was amazed by the engagement and support participants had for each other. As the sessions I hosted were stand-alone, I was worried that there wouldn’t be the same level of engagement between participants as a group who had been together for months.
These fears were very quickly alleviated during my first session when participants were offering advice to other participants, including quite a few quiche recipes being shared in the Zoom chat. At the end of one of my sessions, I asked participants to reflect on what we discussed during the session and what stood out to them. One participant shared that they came into the session with no clue what to do after a slip-up but learned multiple techniques that worked for other participants and felt more prepared for their next slip-up. These group coaching sessions fostered an environment for individuals on their own health journey to come together and share advice. The DPP participants come from across the Emory community but are able to make connections from their shared experiences in improving their health.
My experience in the HLTH 497 DPP path highlighted the importance of support from peers in promoting a healthy community and I look forward to applying the skills I gained through this experience to my future endeavors in public health.