I never thought of my pediatrician as the “askable adult” in my life. Actually, I’m not even sure I can name my doctor during adolescence, nor do I recall even going to the doctor during those years. Anything worth complaining about was answered with a Tylenol and a ginger ale.
The vacuum of sexual health knowledge was filled by peers and Love Boat (“Whatever is a ‘nightcap?’” I wondered.) The information delivered from my mother relied so heavily on metaphors, I was left more confused than we she began (something about a “message” sent in an “envelope”…). As my peer group navigates parenting teens, we frequently laugh at the current availability of accurate information for our own children, while hopefully avoiding the same mistakes from our parents, and undoubtedly making new ones.
In 2017, the Waco Foundation, a cornerstone of community support, recruited Forrest Alton and his 1000 Feathers team to consult on teen pregnancy in the Waco community. The conclusion was a 26-item list of recommendations across multiple sectors and touchpoints of Waco families. Among those suggestions emerged the idea for a Teen Health Navigator, whose job is to be a pipeline between the community and access to timely and appropriate family planning counseling and services.
Waco Family Medicine acted on this recommendation and hired Saira Coronado, LVN, to launch our Women’s Health Navigator role. Saira possesses the perfect balance of health promotion, empathy and the tenacity required to prevent any patient from falling through the cracks. Saira explains her role as offering guidance to the maze of health care eligibility programs, including both the state offerings, as well as our internal discount programs that address the gaps in those programs. She is uniquely cross-trained so that she can address most inquiries that come her way.
There is no prerequisite for who can utilize the hotline number that rings directly to the cell phone in Saira’s pocket– new or existing patients, pregnant women searching for a physician that meets their unique sensibilities, curious teens that are looking for a safe place for an accurate answer. These are a few of the cases that Saira might guide on any given day. Patients enjoy the proximity of having an actual human answer during business hours.
Saira describes that the most rewarding part of her role is observing the satisfaction that patients experience when they possess the information that meets their needs. That response could also be described as agency. When an adolescent is able to practice agency, it may be one of the first lessons in learning to practice a lifelong skill of shared decision-making. Ideally, everyone would have access to all the sufficient and the accurate information for their circumstances. The Women’s Health Navigator role moves us closer to making this possible by addressing critical gaps in the system.
I recently accompanied my 16-year old son to his annual well-visit. As an advocate of adolescent wellness in our community, you can imagine how I use all my children’s wellness visits as case studies in youth-friendliness. The nurse made her way through the lengthy script of screening questions. When she asked “Do you smoke cigarettes, tobacco or marijuana?” and “Are you sexually active?” I interjected, “This might be more productive if I step out of the room. He can take it from here.”
If you are interested in publishing a blog, email Alondra at Alondra@txcampaign.org