Undergraduate Programs

All About Clarkson’s Health Coaches Program

Faith Hutton smiling at the camera

Hi! My name is Faith Hutton, I am from Gouverneur, NY and will be graduating from Clarkson in December of 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. 

Faith Hutton smiling at the camera

My time at Clarkson has been largely spent focusing on healthcare and medicine related classes since I am a pre-med student. I know what you’re thinking, “why would someone who wants to work in the healthcare field go to an engineering school?” Well there are so many reasons why I chose this school, and the Health Coaches program is one of them! 

The program itself has two parts, starting in the fall and ending in the spring, and it is part of the new Medicine and Healthcare minor offered here at Clarkson. 

During the fall semester the class is introduced to how the healthcare system works up here in rural northern New York, including the vast programs that are offered, as well as the challenges that patients often face in attending and understanding their medical visits. 

The class is led by a lovely lady who works at Canton-Potsdam hospital, who is also the same person who recruits and assigns our patients, or clients, for the spring semester. Topics for each lecture are determined by who our guest speaker is each week, and every week is different. Guest speakers are anyone from nurses to doctors, to individuals that run programs like hospice care and meals on wheels. 

The goal of each lecture is to become aware of the resources available to our clients for the spring semester. The lectures also highlight key challenges that some of our clients may face, including lack of transportation, being unable to read, or just not understanding the medical terms their provider is saying. 

Sue Hodgson, Chief Compliance Officer and VP of Quality and Patient Safety at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, speaking with the Health Coaches students.
Sue Hodgson, Chief Compliance Officer and VP of Quality and Patient Safety at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, is just one of several guest speakers who has come in to talk with Health Coach students.

Once into the spring semester, the class shifts gears to focus more on chronic illnesses and how to help clients adapt to living with them, which will be useful with real people. Most of the clients chosen for the program will have some sort of chronic illness that the students, otherwise known as health coaches, will help them monitor and live with. Some of the chronic illnesses my class dealt with were severe depression, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, and COPD. 

Once our clients were assigned to us, we were kind of on our own, in a good way! We made several visits and phone calls throughout the week to make sure they were doing okay and helping them as needed. 

As health coaches we did individual research on the illness or illnesses our clients had and made goals for them to achieve better health. We also used a lot of information learned during the fall semester to help our clients have access to support groups, or even get groceries.

I decided to take this course because the opportunity for some patient-care experience was too valuable to pass up, and it sounded fun! As a pre-med student you come to know that learning patient care and doing patient care are two very different things, and the challenge it presented was very valuable to my learning experience. 

It was very easy to sit in class and take in all the information the guest speakers were saying, and it was also very easy to write out your meeting plans and goals with your client on a sheet of paper, but conducting those plans was so different. Some days it was super easy to get through the tasks with my client, and when I say easy, I mean that the tasks were complicated enough that our time was well spent but uncomplicated enough that it could be accomplished in the hour visit we had planned. 

Other days I could not come up with anything that seemed like a valuable use of our time, and this was a challenge, but this also taught me that there are valuable things learned through simplicity. 

Baking cookies and sitting down with a cup of coffee with my client was also productive, more mentally than physically, but that was what my client needed. My client just needed a nice relaxing day to talk with someone and honestly sometimes I did too. That was one of my favorite aspects of the Health Coach program, while you are helping people adapt and make healthier choices, they are helping you grow as a student, person, and healthcare provider. 

Two people sitting and talking on an on-campus bench
Sometimes, sitting down to talk is the healthiest thing you can do.

To become a health coach there was a lot of studying of chronic illnesses and how to help individuals manage those illnesses. It was difficult to do this because there are a lot of people who have lost hope of a manageable lifestyle once they are diagnosed with a chronic illness. A lot would have a mindset of why bother trying to be healthy when my illness will never go away anyways. Overcoming this mindset in our health coach clients was a challenge for most, but persistence and lots of research were the keys to achieving their goals. 

My personal experience with this course was different from a lot of others. Unfortunately, I had to take most of the course virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but as the spring semester rolled around and vaccines were available, the opportunity to meet with clients in person was becoming more achievable.

Despite this, I still feel that I had very valuable experiences, and really enjoyed the limited in-person contact I had with my client. My case study from the fall semester had nothing to do with the nature of my work for the spring semester. This made more work for me, but also made me research and learn a lot more about two different chronic illnesses, hypertension, and chronic depression. Two very different illnesses affecting two very different parts of the body, but valuable to know. 

Although my experience was different from others who have taken the course in previous years, I was grateful to have the opportunity to work with the client I did and the other students in my class. Being able to collaborate and problem solve in our lectures was one of my favorite parts about the course.

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