Two semesters is not a lot of time to research, plan and implement several new public health initiatives from scratch. Yet that’s what 32 IU South Bend students did in their senior year — and what up to 40 do each year — in a course that crowns students’ educational experience. from the Dental Hygiene Program and Health Promotion Concentration of the BS in Health Sciences at Indiana University’s South Bend Dwyer College of Health Sciences.
The two-semester course, led by Mallory Edmondson, clinical assistant professor and director of the Division of Dental Education at IU South Bend, is required for students’ professional accreditation as dental hygienists. But it’s also an important way to understand their power to instill healthy habits in customers.
“Dental hygiene students are usually very focused on clinical work and gaining experience with individual patients, so they can be a bit overwhelmed by the scope of this course,” Edmondson said. “But by the end of the experience, everyone’s really changed their focus. They’re starting to understand the power of talking to multiple people at once and how it can impact their communities.”
Other course participants – health promotion students – are less intimidated by public outreach because of the breadth of their training as public health professionals, she said. But most have not had the chance to implement their own program.
During the 2021-2022 academic year, 32 students from the Edmondson course conducted 13 public health education projects in the northern Indiana region, including St. Joseph and Elkhart counties .
Among the projects were a three-day program to teach oral health to fourth-grade students at the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph’s County; a program to teach good sleep habits to high school students at Elkhart High School in Elkhart, Indiana; and a positive stress management program for members of the South Bend Center for the Homeless, the area’s largest residential facility for homeless individuals and families.
Although oral hygiene is a natural topic for many students on the course, Edmondson said students are encouraged to investigate the needs of the communities they are addressing to tailor topics to their needs.
Sleep deprivation is a major concern among high school students today, for example, IU students who spoke at Elkhart High School focused their educational program on topics like the effect of cell phone blue light on sleep, and other strategies for getting enough rest.
Likewise, she said, stress is a common and understandable health problem among homeless people, so the students who spoke to this group focused their curriculum on healthy coping methods. The program was also presented in partnership with ‘Wine and Canvas’, a local business that teaches people to paint in a fun and engaging environment, so the information was provided in a format that allowed participants to relax. .
Yasmin Leal, a senior dental hygiene student who co-directed the oral hygiene program at the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County, said her project was primarily aimed at encouraging club members to improve their oral health. -dental to prevent cavities and gingivitis. The project was done as part of a club-sponsored after-school program at Harrison Elementary School in South Bend.
Topics included oral health tips, as well as other strategies for maintaining a healthy mouth, such as foods that strengthen teeth, how often to brush and floss, and when to see a dentist. They also worked to make the information fun and engaging, like an activity in which kids made “mouths” out of marshmallows and construction paper.
Edmondson also noted that students had made an impact by handing out new toothbrushes after learning that some children were sharing theirs with siblings at home.
A former member of the Boys and Girls Club of St. Joseph County, Leal said she leveraged connections within the organization to organize the project.
“I’m a former member of the club and I knew I could count on them,” she said. “They are always looking for guest speakers, professionals, or programs to expand members’ knowledge and opportunities.”
The program also had a measurable impact on students, said Caylee Gee, a senior dental hygiene student who co-led the project. To measure the success of their program, each course participant distributes pre-tests and post-tests to those they speak to on the first and last day of outreach programs. Gee said fourth-graders in their program had an overall improvement of 42 percentage points, with post-test scores averaging 94%.
“We realized that spending multiple days with the students had a big impact,” Gee said. “Plus, we could tell they enjoyed the program. They were excited about the activities each day and couldn’t wait for us to come back and work with them.”
Both students said the course inspired a desire to continue to be involved in the community.
“Planning this program has been a challenging yet rewarding journey of self-discovery,” Leal said. “During the two semesters, I developed skills that I didn’t know I had. Now that I know I’m able to create and implement a successful dental health program, it’s a skill which I intend to use again.”