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Students gain real-world experience as health coaches for Emory employees

Student Health Partners (left to right) Katie Brousseau, Tyler Herrod and Sujith Swarna wait to meet with Emory employees at one of this year’s “Know Your Numbers” health screening events.

Students taking Emory’s undergraduate health courses during the last academic year had the opportunity to gain real-world experience as health coaches for university and health care employees, thanks to a new partnership between Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health and Healthy Emory, the university’s employee health initiative.

Health 1,2,3 is an empirically-driven academic health program developed and administered by the CSHH that aims to educate, engage, empower and encourage students to develop and sustain healthy lifestyle behaviors, starting in their first year on campus.

In Health 100, required for all first-year students, students focus on their own health and well-being. Those who choose to take Health 200 and Health 300 learn to be peer health partners and serve as leaders for Health 100 sections. Students who complete the series of three courses gain a unique array of educational and mentoring skills, including positive leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, discussion-facilitation, presenting, active learning techniques and decision-making.

As a continuation of the Health 1,2,3 Program, last fall the center partnered with Healthy Emory, an initiative focused on improving employee health and wellbeing, to introduce a fourth level classroom-to-community component.

Through this experience, undergraduate students who completed the Health 1,2,3 Program were provided an opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in a workplace setting. The students were trained to serve as Student Health Partners (SHPs) to provide one-on-one post-biometric screening health coaching to Emory employees at several “Know Your Numbers” biometric screenings during spring 2019.

The objectives of the coaching sessions were to ensure participant understanding of biometric screening results, assist participants with determining next steps regarding lifestyle changes, and increase participants’ awareness of the Healthy Emory resources available to them.

Satisfaction from employees

At the end of each coaching interaction, participants were surveyed to gather feedback. A great majority of participants reported they were very satisfied with their interaction with the student health partners and believed the students demonstrated effective communication skills.

Of the 112 Emory employees who completed a survey after their coaching session:

  • 93 percent of employees reported knowing what next steps to take regarding lifestyle change that will improve their health.
  • 94 percent indicated that they intended to follow the information they were given
  • 93 percent would recommend other employees to future post-biometric screening coaching opportunities with student health partners. 

“Employees found the SHPs to be professional, approachable and helpful,” notes Melissa Morgan, senior manager for health and wellness.

Preparing students for the future

Following the completion of all coaching interactions, students were also surveyed about their experiences. Three of the four student health partners also participated in a focus group to discuss the experience in more detail and determine recommendations for the future.

“The majority of students indicated high satisfaction with their experience. They stated that their greatest fulfillment was their perceived impact on helping participants identify resources to reach individual health goals,” says Lisa DuPree, director of Health 1,2,3.

“They also described personal, academic and professional benefits that will improve their resume and help them stand out in future endeavors,” DuPree says, adding that they described their experience as health partners as “a direct application of knowledge learned in their Health 1,2,3 classes.”

The students indicated that they had very positive experiences.

“I liked being able to tell in certain situations that you actually had a positive impact,” says senior Tyler Herrod. “There’s some information that you provided them that they didn’t know, and you could see that they enjoyed the discussion that we had.” 

For Katie Brousseau, also a senior, working with Emory employees offered a “real world” opportunity to utilize what she had learned in her classes. “I thought about the SMART goal-setting part of Health 1,2,3 every time I had an interaction with the Healthy Emory participants,” she says.

Brousseau liked the “professional development aspect” of serving as a health partner. “I feel it was something really interesting and unique that I could put on my resume, and it gave me something unique for future goals,” she explains, noting that “it’s something that is closer to what I actually see myself doing in the future.”

Senior Sujith Swarna also felt the experience provided valuable experience for the future. “I’m hoping to be a physician, so having to practice listening to people and understanding as much as you can about their overall life is a good skill to have now that will help me in the future,” Swarna says.

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