Shared decision-making and strong communication skills are essential for creating a positive patient-provider relationship that leads to better health care outcomes. Investing in a culture that values the patient’s voice is the cornerstone of the Pre-Medical Student Health Coach Program at Alameda Health System’s (AHS) Highland Wellness.
“During my time in the student health coach program, connecting with patients always started from a place of engagement, curiosity, and compassion,” said Victoria Lee, a member of the 2023 cohort. “The program gave me the tools to partner with patients by affirming and reflecting their experiences through a safe, open dialogue. As a result, it led to mutual trust which blossomed into patients feeling comfortable to open up about their health concerns.”
Students like Lee who are interested in primary care are recruited throughout the Bay Area for the AHS Pre-Medical Student Health Coach Program, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Alameda Health System Foundation.
Health coaches are trained in self-management support and motivational interviewing techniques and are supervised by primary care faculty and residents. Coaches form part of an interdisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, social workers, nurses and medical assistants.
Co-program directors Davida Flattery, doctor of osteopathic medicine and primary care, and Monica Rowden, licensed clinical social worker in ambulatory, share a passion for developing the next generation of diverse health care providers, especially for underserved communities.
“We recruit students with lived experience that will help facilitate their ability to connect with our patients,” said Flattery. “We look for students who are culturally, linguistically, racially and economically concordant with the communities we serve with the goal to increase diverse representation in the health care workforce.”
One of those students is Enrique Sanchez Peña, an Oakland native and also a graduate of CSEB’s post-baccalaureate Pre-Professional Health Academic Program. He was attracted to the student health coach program because of the important role AHS plays in supporting the health and wellness of the most vulnerable.
“Alameda Health System’s history of serving communities in need is important to me not only because it’s critical that everyone have access to quality health care services, it’s also very personal,” said Sanchez Peña. “Growing up, my family received great care at Highland, and I want to be a physician to give back to the community. I want to be part of the exceptional patient experience that I received.”
The health coach program gives students like Sanchez Peña and Lee hands-on experience working side-by-side with primary care resident physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, social workers, nurses and medical assistants.
“As a result of the interdisciplinary collaboration, our student health coaches are learning how to engage with patients dealing with complex, chronic health conditions,” said Rowden. “Our program is really geared toward meeting patients where they are, helping them identify their own goals for health, and achieving those goals by creating manageable action plans.”