Student Senate Taking Action Series motivates students to educate patients

Liala Helal | June 19, 2015

Vaccination panel guides students to prepare for patient discussions on challenging topics

Northwestern faculty members Dr. Michele Maiers, left, and Dr. Verena Van Fleet served as panelists in a discussion about vaccines and supplements during the June 10 Student Senate Taking Action Series event.

Would you consume coffee through a route other than your mouth? That was a question students heard at the first summer Student Senate Taking Action Series event last week.

The event was designed to get students thinking about taking action on health issues they believe in using their education, scientific evidence and personal values. Using a YouTube video on coffee enemas designed to illustrate that scientific language can be used to promote concepts not everyone would agree is scientific or beneficial, chiropractic student and event organizer Beau Foshee explained there are many polarizing topics in health care, and figuring out what you agree or disagree with is just the first step.

The summer series is focused on challenging topics for communication with patients.

Northwestern faculty Dr. Verena Van Fleet and Dr. Michele Maiers made up the panel, while Dr. Kashif Ahmad moderated the discussion about two controversial health topics — vaccines and nutritional supplements.

“We’re here to figure out what makes sense for our own values and get to the bottom of what we believe,” Northwestern chiropractic student and Student Senate President Beau Foshee said to the students. “As health care providers, we will encounter many scenarios where we need to be prepared to discuss our opinions with patients; for example we might have a mother at our clinic asking about whether to vaccinate her children.”

The event provided a chance to talk about how to effectively communicate with patients and clients, beginning with a humorous video about communication.

“As conservative care partners in the marketplace, our graduates need to be fully prepared to have conversations about family health and challenging topics, including vaccinations and nutritional supplements,” Foshee said. “The point of this series is to motivate students to take action, not just be in their mind space thinking about it. Don’t just believe it, do something about it. If I have a professional opinion, I should be able to say to you, ‘Here’s information on it, here’s a care packet with evidence supporting this opinion.’”

Dr. Maiers has a public health background and said that based on scientific literature, it is clear that vaccines save lives. She explained the science behind how vaccines are delivered, the impact of public pressure on ingredients of vaccines, and studies showing evidence that vaccines build immunity, and ultimately, herd immunity.

“But it’s a touchy subject,” another student said. “I would teach my patients  how the immune system works, the research behind it, give them the resources to find out how disease is spread, give them questions they should try to answer as they research. That’s what I’m doing for myself.”

Dr. Ahmad reminded students that vaccines are not 100 percent safe and without risk. Dr. Van Fleet added that individuals should consider both the risks and benefits of vaccination.

Some students asked that if vaccines work, why worry about those who choose not to vaccinate?

“Nothing in life is 100 percent certain, and I wish it was. For example, vaccines are not, and there are certain populations that can’t get vaccinated: vulnerable populations with HIV, or children in chemo treatment,” said chiropractic student Nate Servey in response. “It becomes a social justice issue.”

The discussion provided students the opportunity to hear opposing viewpoints and get answers from experts on the safety of vaccines, effectiveness, vaccination schedules and other issues surrounding the topic.

“We had a good variation in student opinions and high-quality dialogue,” Foshee said. He started the Taking Action Series last term in an effort to motivate students to become more involved in professional advocacy. The first series was a workshop about massage therapy legislation that educated students on how they can influence the process. Students plan to follow up on this when legislators are in session again in 2016.

Dr. Maiers has been Foshee’s mentor in creating the series, after he went to a policy talk by David Kunz, the University’s lobbyist through the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Policy.

“The concept of the Taking Action Series is to encourage us to use our action voices in addition to our speaking voices,” Foshee said. “Having an opinion is insufficient. The faculty influence is an absolute reflection that Northwestern has always utilized science-based curricula to train the most competent professionals possible. We have many experts, and it is amazing to have them participate in meaningful dialogue outside of the classroom.”

The Taking Action Series will continue next year as an effort to contribute to competencies that are collaborative across Northwestern’s programs.

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