As a Health Educator serving pediatric patients in a community clinic and students grades K-12 in two Chicago public schools, I see a wide variety of patients for individual nutrition counseling sessions. Given the range of ages, I learned early on that I would need to adapt each session to best fit each patient's background and needs. In our National Health Corps member training sessions, we often remind each other that we need to "meet patients where they're at."
For example, when interacting with a high school student, I can use the fact that I'm close to their age (a near-peer) to get on their level and talk about their eating habits and lifestyle. Many high schoolers can identify areas for improvement in their choices, and the session is mostly a matter of motivating the patient and helping them find creative ways to reach their goal.
On the other hand, when I'm meeting with a young elementary school student, many of them are not aware of what makes certain foods healthy--they just know which foods taste good. With these patients, I start with the basics, which includes drawing pictures and playing interactive activities to introduce them to food groups and to get them thinking about the foods they are eating.
Truly, one size does not fit all when it comes to my individualized nutrition coaching sessions, or in essentially any situation when meeting with patients. This challenges me to be adaptable, creative, and to constantly problem-solve so that I can best serve my patient population. I find these aspects rewarding, and it makes every day a learning opportunity, both for me and the patients I serve.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2018-19 member Julia Smith.
Julia serves as a Health Educator at Heartland Health Centers - Kilmer/Sullivan.