How One CHW Feeds Her Love of Health Education

Tasha Whitaker, CHW

Some people might picture community health workers as busy little worker bees buzzing around with surveys, checklists, and clipboards. There’s an element of truth to that image: They’re indeed active as they educate clients and patients about health care issues and connect them with appropriate services and resources.

But CHWs aren’t just names on some roster – they have individual, unique backgrounds and experience that qualify them to perform this increasingly important role in the nation’s health care system.

Let’s meet one of them. Tasha Whitaker has followed an unusual path, from reading Dr. Seuss books to pre-kindergartners to seeing that Medicare patients receive the right pre-diabetes screenings, among other tasks. Whitaker is a Community Health Worker II at Baylor Scott & White Health, in Dallas, Texas, and a strong proponent of health education.

Q. What exactly are your duties?

A. We work as a multidisciplinary team – a physician, medical assistant, CHW, pharmacist, and licensed clinical social worker. We are assigned a load of patients over 50. We assess their charts and provide health education and resources to the patient that are needed. These referrals come through the providers and other staff, and we follow up with the patient to make sure that their wellness visits, A1C test [for diabetes], medication list, depression screening and other metrics are all completed. If not, we make sure to get those patients in for an appointment.

Q. How did you arrive at your current position?

A. I went to school to become an RN. It wasn’t until I got to my health-ed classes that I figured that I loved the education part. So I graduated with degree in health education studies. The next best thing to me is teaching. A bunch of people in my family are in teaching. I went through certification programs, got an education, did some pre-K, then started in another job, working for a podiatrist. I got laid off and went back to substitute teaching. Then I got a job here. My journey wasn’t really “on purpose”; it just happened. My title when I was hired was community health educator. Once I started working, my employer gave me the opportunity to get certified as a community health worker. After working in one position for 4 ½ years, I was promoted and moved into a new role as a Community Health Worker II. Eventually, I want to go back and get my RN license and continue with health education and chronic-disease management.

Q. What makes you feel passionate about the work you do?

A. I love educating people about health and chronic diseases. I enjoy being able to break down complicated and complex information to people who may be struggling with turning their health around. It’s rewarding to see patients change their behavior and see many of them push through barriers to reach their goal.

Q. What’s unique about the needs of the people you serve?

A.  Because they are seniors, some have barriers involving sight, reading, and instruction comprehension.

Q. Describe a time when the work you did truly made a difference for someone.

A.  There was a patient I worked with in a pre-diabetes management class, and she was a bus driver. She was in the program to try and reduce her risk for getting diabetes. It was difficult because the goal was to lose 7 percent of her body weight through healthy eating and exercise. She came very close. She eventually lost weight and changed the snacks and drinks she would consume as she drove the bus. That, in turn, allowed others to see her progress and get them to be interested in the program. It was a really good feeling to know that our time in class was making a difference.

Diabetes and Prediabetes Learning Track

Train your staff to help patients and clients understand how to live with and manage diabetes and prediabetes. They’ll learn the most relevant methods for improving health outcomes, living healtier, and making meaningful changes.

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10 Free Apps for Tobacco Cessation

Some smokers will tell you cigarettes give them something to do with their hands. Here are 10 free smartphone apps that occupy the fingers of people who want to quit.

Smoking and smartphone

1. SmokefreeTXT

“SmokefreeTXT is a mobile text messaging program that provides 24/7 tips, advice, and encouragement to help you quit smoking.”

2. quitSTART

QuitSTART is a free app made for teens who want to quit smoking, but adults can use it too. This app takes the information about an individual’s smoking history and offers customized tips, inspiration, and challenges to help become smoke-free.

3. Smoke Free

An iPhone (and Android) app with over 20 different, evidence-based, techniques to become smoke-free. Includes details on money saved, counts the number of cigarettes not smoked, tracks time since last cigarette, and more.

4. 1-800-QUIT-NOW 

A phone-based service with educational materials, coaches, a quit plan, and referrals to local resources to help you quit tobacco use.

5. 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) 

A phone-based service to help Spanish speakers quit tobacco use.

6. Kwit

Kwit is a game-based tobacco cessation tool that makes quitting fun. Score points for not smoking, receive rewards for achievements, and get support from friends.

7. LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach

The LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach application creates a personalized plan to help quit smoking. Evaluate current status, set goals and adjust preferences according to needs. Only for iPhone. LIVESTRONG also has an active and helpful community support site for stopping smoking.

8. QuitNow!

Another game-based approach to help stop smoking. It tracks achievements, money saved, health progress and has an online community.

9. My Last Cigarette – Stop Smoking Stay Quit

A smoker enters details of the smoking habit and personal details then watch as various indicators display expected increase in lifespan, yur circulatory and lung function improvements, savings, and more. The full app costs $0.99 but the lite version is free.

10. Quit Smoking: Cessation Nation

This free Android app tracks time lapsed since quitting, money saved, cigarettes not smoked, and health improvements in a fun game-based format. Connects to a Facebook community.

Support to Quit Tobacco

Let us help your organization increase and improve tobacco cessation programs in your community. FInd out how you can improve your team’s training so they can help their clients give up using cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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We Can Leave Tobacco Behind

It was the summer of 1957, and the way my parents met was like something out of an Elvis movie: a waterskiing blind date. My mother, Annette, a skinny 17-year-old, hit the water so hard at Denver’s Cherry Creek Reservoir that it pulled off her bikini top. Mortified, she hid behind her best friend Dee, who struggled to cover Mom while my 20-year-old eventual dad, Sherman, reclaimed her top.

Could you blame him for asking her out on a second date? And another after that?

To be that young in 1957 was to be hale, hearty, and invincible. They went to sock hops and double features. They went spelunking in the Rockies and took entry-level jobs with odd hours. Soon they eloped and started a family. My two sisters and brother came just a year and a half apart from one another. It was a typical home full of chaos and kids – and cigarettes.

Everybody smoked back then, and my parents were no different. It was cheap, cool, and everywhere. President Eisenhower lit up in the White House. Every good and bad guy smoked on screen. Cigarette vending machines were in all the restaurants. A few studies began to show a link between smoking and lung cancer by the 1950s, but such studies were still new and little-known.

Dad eventually gave up cigarettes, but still puffed a pipe and cigars, and he kept a can of chew in his pocket. Mom only gave it up when she reached her 60s. By the time she stopped, it was too late. She had emphysema and needed oxygen support. When she turned 71, she was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and was gone a year later.

Cigarette smoke was my constant companion growing up, but it was never my friend. I saw the failed attempts to quit, the premature aging, the coughing, the colds and flus, and the expense. I supported my mom as these smoking-related diseases claimed her body. I lived through her self-blame and depression. It wasn’t peaceful or easy.

Of course, 2016 isn’t 1957, and opinions about tobacco are different. It’s uplifting to know that tobacco use is generally down in this country, but that’s not good enough. It’s still the leading cause of preventable illness.

So when I have the chance to help other people stop using tobacco, I don’t just jump at it, I hurl myself at it. Our new course, Supporting Tobacco Cessation, is a source of passion because organizations like yours can use it as a tool to reduce tobacco use in families like mine.

My hope is that one day soon, tobacco will be among those relics of history that we’ve left behind along with lead makeup and bloodletting. Quitting tobacco is tough; my mother couldn’t do it for most of her life. But it is possible if we work together: program directors like you, educators like me, and determined individuals like my mom. I’m confident that we can and will.

Support to Quit Tobacco

Let us help your organization increase and improve tobacco cessation programs in your community. FInd out how you can improve your team’s training so they can help their clients give up using cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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Want to Make America the Healthiest Nation by 2030?

Logo for National Public Health WeekAmericans, you need to take better care of yourselves. Most of us who feel passionate about healthy lifestyles know this, which is why we fight so hard to schedule you for screenings, sign you up for health care, help you put down that cigarette, and encourage you to watch your diets.

Every April, people who feel passionate about public health come together as part of National Public Health Week in an effort to understand the issues and strengthen policies. The goal is to make America the healthiest nation in the world by 2030 – just one generation away. The effort, organized by the American Public Health Association, “develops a national campaign to educate the public, policymakers, and practitioners about issues related to each year’s theme.”

It’s pretty fun; there are classes, runs, health fairs, forums – a little something across the country for the people who really care. CHWTraining is a partner, so stay tuned for news about our participation.

View the initiative, post your public health events, check out the activities of others, and unite to build healthier communities across the United States:

National Public Health Week

Health Coaching and Motivational Interviewing

Introduce your team to motivational interviewing, so they can help patients and clients give up certain behaviors and develop lasting incentives to take charge of their health.

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