Healthcare 101 for teens
Jennifer Banas, MPH, MSEd, Ed.D, CHES, Associate Professor, Department of Health Sciences and Physical Education, Northeastern Illinois University
Sarah Gershon, Lead Teacher, Health Education, Waukegan High School, Academic years 2017–18 and 2019–20

We think outside the box to solve problems.

Healthcare 101 for teens

Sarah: “At linguistically diverse schools like ours, kids leave the classroom or are absent not necessarily for their own health issue but to go to the doctor on behalf of a family member. Kids who are 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 years old, they’re navigating their grandmother’s breast cancer or their own asthma.”

Jennifer: “We found it was happening about 60 to 65 percent of the time at Waukegan High School (WHS). So, how do we help them with this, make them health literate?

“The typical high school health education curriculum includes sex ed, drugs, and mental health. But the Nemours Foundation had created a curriculum that covered things like reading an insurance card, filling out a medical form, and the relationship between your family medical history and your likely health outcomes. They agreed to let us pilot the curriculum in WHS’s health education classes.

“We’ve been doing this for about three years now, and we’ve been able to validate a significant change from pre- to post- in students’ knowledge with respect to these basic health literacy skills as well as awareness of self-advocacy—feeling comfortable asking your doctor or the pharmacist a question, asking for something without it being asked of you.

Sarah: “We’ve also added a couple of items to the curriculum. We want students to be aware of resources in their community: where to go if they don’t have health insurance, what’s available through Lake County Health Department or through the FindHelpLakeCounty website. We’d also like to develop students’ awareness of and interest in healthcare careers—not just doctors or nurses but translators, medical transcriptionists, dental technicians, community health workers. There are a lot of career opportunities in healthcare, and students who are linguistically diverse and have insight into their culture are actually marketable and in demand.”

Jennifer: “To help them see achievable pathways to those careers here in Lake County, we’re developing relationships with College of Lake County and Rosalind Franklin University. And with Healthcare Foundation support, we’ve established the Future Healthcare Professionals Club at Waukegan High School.

“The Foundation has been wonderful. They made it clear that they don’t usually fund this type of work in schools, but they became convinced that this curriculum could improve access to care for people, and they went ahead and supported us. I really appreciated them taking this on. We’d like to honor their support by expanding this program to other high schools in Lake County.”