April is Minority Health Awareness Month, so we are asking staff to share tips on how they get and stay healthy themselves, and what tips they share with patients. Here are some thoughts from LaShyra ‘Lash’ Nolen, a volunteer with the AmeriCorps National Health Corps program working as a health coach at HHC-Albany Park. We asked her to share a bit about herself as well.
Q. What is a health coach, anyway?
A. I support patients to make health goals that will improve their lives and overall health–goals that fit their lives but can have a great impact. As a coach, I’m able to spend more time more time with each patient than other members of the patient’s Care Team, and to dive deeper into their lives and understand their health-related motivations and challenges.
I am also working on projects to improve the experience of patients at the Innovation Center at Albany Park. I’m an active member of a diabetes medication optimization project. I’m also the lead on health coaching quality improvement projects, and advocate for the creation of financial support mechanisms for patient transportation to medical appointments.
Q. How did you find your way to Heartland Health Centers as an Americorps volunteer?
A. I knew I wanted to take a couple of gap years before I go to medical school to get more experience with the underserved populations I would like to serve as a future physician. I am originally from Los Angeles and recognized that every city, state and community has unique challenges that affect them, so I wanted to learn about some of the challenges people in Chicago face. I spent last year doing research and teaching English in La Coruña, Spain, so I also really wanted to work with Spanish-speaking communities.
Q. How do you encourage patients to be more active and/or healthy?
A. Before I start giving advice about nutrition or diabetes, say, I like to find out what their daily life looks like, and other facts like their favorite foods and priorities. I like to learn more about their culture [if they are from another part of the world]. I believe making health goals most suited for the patient’s life are key to helping them accomplish those goals successfully.
I usually encourage patients to get more active in subtle ways, like walking some days of the week instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Not every patient can afford a gym membership or really finds exercise enjoyable, so I have found it helpful to find small, simple ways to help patients get active. I use the same approach when working with patients to improve their diet.
Q. What are your professional goals after Heartland Health Centers?
A. I am really sad to leave Heartland Health Centers, but excited for the next chapter! Next year I will attend medical school with the objective of obtaining an MD/MPH or MD/MPP dual degree. My goal is to become a physician leader, both locally in my community and nationally at the government level, with a focus of improving primary health care models and studying the intersections of social justice and medicine to help eradicate health disparities.
Q. How to do you keep moving and stay healthy with your busy schedule?
A. I learned in college that efficiency is key when trying to exercise with a busy schedule. I do a 30-minute workout routine that consists of a 2-mile run and a mix of weight lifting and balance exercises 4 to 5 times a week. I once thought that in order to have a good workout I had to spend hours in the gym, but then realized 30 minutes of quality fitness goes a long way. For fun I like to run half marathons–and beat boys at pickup basketball.
Q. Do you have a health tip for the community you would like to share?
A. My biggest advice is to remember health is your basic human right. So when you go to the doctor, make sure all your questions are answered, make sure you feel listened to and try your best to take an active role in your care. Your relationship with your provider should be a partnership, so you should always feel like your opinions and questions are respected no matter what.