My Day Teaching High School Health

Do you remember what it was like to pass through the halls of your high school? As I walked through the front doors of one of Nashville’s schools a few weeks ago to meet with the principle and health teacher, waves of nostalgia washed over me. The posters on the walls, signs advertising spirit week and sounds of chatter filtering through the windows of the cafeteria brought back a flood of memories. It seemed like taking a step back in time.

One of my mentors who has her life together much more than I (competes in triathlons-check, mother of four-check, business owner-check, volunteer-check, takes European vacations-check) recently ran for an elected seat on the Nashville school board. Through my mentor and a few other experiences in the community, I have recently gained a heightened awareness as to Nashville public schools’ efforts to improve. The district is actively working to better education as well as to diminish the dichotomy between public and private schools in the area.

When I discovered that the local high school in my area offered a health professions course, I wanted to get involved. After all, I love high schoolers and health professions. High school is an opportune time to get involved in teen’s lives. High school students need adult mentors but are looking to distance themselves from their parents. It’s important that someone step into this role. They are eager to learn and haven’t yet been jaded by life. Tweens, teens, and young adults are my favorite patients to work with in the emergency department so I figured that getting involved in a local high school would be right up my alley.

In talking with the principle before committing to teach on a monthly basis, he let me know that the school is looking to give students a post-high school vision. Whether that be to get an associate’s degree or a PhD, the goal is to have students go on to continue their education. As part of this message, they need to understand that their grades and efforts now affect future opportunities. 

Thinking through the principle’s words I decided to deliver my first lecture on different health professions, their educational requirements, job responsibilities, and average salaries. I tied in my emergency department experience and walked the students through case studies looking at ‘real life’ patients so they could get a better idea of what each medical profession looks like. 

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Powerpoint slides, handouts, and a giant bag of candy in hand, I pulled up to the front door of the local high school yesterday prepared to give my talk. Half nervous and half curious as to how the experience would go, I slid handouts in front of each seat as students arrived in the classroom. A West Coaster myself, I couldn’t get over the politeness of the southern students. “Excuse me ma’am” they would say. Where I come from using the word “ma’am” may even be taken as an insult as it implies a certain age bracket, but I was eating it up.

While most students seemed engaged, two immediately put their heads in their arms on the desk and went to sleep. Another popped in earbuds. I decided not to take personal offense. They didn’t fall asleep while I was talking, just didn’t give me the chance to get started (it should be noted that both woke up and were on high alert when I played a CPR rap video). Aside from the few disengaged students, the talk went over very well. I felt like I connected with students and was able to answer their very practical questions in regards to a future career in healthcare. I spent a lot of time explaining the role of nurse practitioners as many seemed confused by the concept. “Isn’t a nurse practitioner a female doctor?” one girl asked. I predict I had a few future NPs in my audience. 

Volunteering in a capacity closely related to my career but outside of hospital walls was fun. I felt like I was good at teaching. I enjoyed connecting with my local community in a new way and would highly encourage you to do the same, whatever the opportunity might be. If you are a nurse practitioner and are interested in guest teaching a class at your local school, I would be happy to share my slides! Also, I’ve created a ‘High School Hangout’ forum on the MyThriveAP message board so students can ask questions of practicing nurses and NPs. If you notice a question posted, don’t hesitate to chime in with a response!

What volunteer opportunities are available for nurse practitioners in your community?


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