Knowledge is Power: Utilizing Health Education for Disease Prevention

When my supervisor interviewed me for the Health Educator position at Amundsen High School, I initially told her that just the thought of teaching sex education to high school students made me nervous. However, I was eager to learn the skills necessary to teach students about their sexual health because of my passion for health education in general. The skills that I learned through both behind-the-scenes training and in-the-moment learning, combined with my passion for health education, made it possible for me to be a positive influence in the lives of the students that I teach and serve.

One of the most unforgettable experiences that I have had thus far happened during a lunchroom health promotion regarding the services that our clinic provides. For some reason, a group of young male students kept talking and laughing when I was giving information about genital warts and the HPV vaccine. However, their giggling stopped when I said that HPV can cause cervical cancer to women and oral cancer to men. Days later, one of those young men came to the health center for an HPV vaccine. He told our providers that my lunchroom health promotion educated him about the negative effects of STIs and how to prevent getting them. He even told our provider about the specific information he acquired during our conversation: that the vaccine is given in a 3-dose schedule, 2nd shot given 2 months after, and 3rd shot given 6 months after the first. I was amazed! Not only did he remember the specifics of the vaccine intervals, but I was somehow able to convince him to come in and actually get a shot!

This particular student's parent, however, opted out for him to get an HPV vaccine. And since he was not 18 years of age or older, he could not sign for said vaccine himself. The excitement I experienced that day quickly turned into dismay. But guess what happened two days later: he came back with a parental consent form for the vaccine! He said that he explained to his mom, just like I had explained to him, that getting the vaccine does not mean that he will automatically become sexually active; that it is better to get the HPV shot now and be prepared for whatever may happen in the future. I was jumping up and down.

Yes -- we are only talking about one student. But my mentality is this: I just saved one person from acquiring genital warts, HPV, and oral cancer. Moments such as this fuel my desire to continue teaching heath. When you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, armed with your passion about a certain cause, you can make a positive impact in the community that you serve. This is just one of the many stories I have from my service so far, but they all give me the energy and strength I need to keep teaching the topic that I was once afraid of. I am more excited than ever to share my knowledge about preventive health to the youth so that they can take good care of themselves and others. Indeed, knowledge is power!

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Rey De Leon.

Rey is a Health Educator with Erie Family Health Centers - Amundsen High School.