Medical Self-Care: Health Care Education

An experimental health care education class the author established for first graders did a lot to help the kids understand more about caring for their own bodies.

| September/October 1979

  • 059-health-care-education-Tom-Ferguson1.jpg
    Dr. Tom Ferguson set up a health care education class for first graders.

  • 059-health-care-education-Tom-Ferguson1.jpg

Back in my early days on the hospital wards, I was shocked by the numbers of people who were suffering (and dying!) from preventable diseases. I felt that by not teaching things like relaxation, exercise, diet, and so forth, our culture had let those men and women down ... and would continue to let down generation after generation of children, unless our youngsters could be taught to take care of their bodies.

So, when I later had the opportunity to devote several months to an M.D. thesis project, I decided to set up a "good example" health care education class to teach medical skills to first graders. The regular instructors in my "target" school were enthusiastic about the program, and soon three co-workers and I had arranged to work with eight children for two afternoons each week over a two-month period.

The teachers suggested that we explore areas that the children wanted to learn about, rather than coming in with a prepackaged set of goals. So we opened up the session with this loose definition of the class: "This is a time for you to find out about your bodies, about doctors, about what happens when you get sick, and about how to stay healthy. Your 'job' is to think up good questions about health. Our job is to answer whatever questions we can, and help you figure out how to find your own answers to the others.

What, Me Teach Medicine?

My co-workers and I were all a little uncertain about our ability to instruct the children in even rudimentary medical skills. One of the myths in our culture is that medical information is so specialized that a little of such knowledge can be terribly dangerous and that it's best to leave all the responsibility for "doctoring" to the experts.

In the course of our classroom experiment, however, we discovered that It's all right for people to get together to talk about illnesses and bodies even if no one in the gathering is a "pro." You see, one of the most important medical self-care skills is the ability to pose the right question and then figure out how to find the answer.

We emphasized this sort of self-sufficiency in our classes by helping the young students use the library to resolve some of their questions, and take advantage of the other resources that we had available to answer others.

7/30/2013 12:05:46 PM

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