Health Care Coach
At every sporting event in the country, you’ll find coaches leading athletes onto the field—but few people have heard about health coaches.
Since 2013, SUNY Potsdam community health students have been venturing out to the homes of people with chronic illnesses as part of a collaborative effort with Canton-Potsdam Hospital to help high-risk patients set health goals and help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Kristine Demeter ’18 is an integral part of the health coach program as a graduate assistant for the class taught by Assistant Professor Dr. Brent Crow—the same course she took as an undergraduate student. After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in community health in 2016, Demeter is now pursuing a master’s degree in community health — one of 18 graduate programs offered at SUNY Potsdam.
She now oversees six undergraduate students working as health coaches for clients throughout St. Lawrence County. This semester, Demeter’s students have been making weekly visits to the homes of people with chronic conditions, giving them guidance and support as they deal with issues like diabetes and hypertension.
“Health coaches can go into the home and make sure patients are taking their hypertension medicine, make sure they’re getting some exercise throughout the day to help with their high blood pressure…The goal is to try to keep these patients out of the hospital. So, the hospital assigns patients who are more at risk, or that they see more often for their chronic diseases. A health coach comes in and tries to help them manage their life, to keep them out of the healthcare setting,” Demeter said.
Demeter was born in Madrid, N.Y., just 10 miles from SUNY Potsdam. She cruised through high school as part of an accelerated program, finishing in just three years and starting at SUNY Potsdam when most of her classmates were still seniors in high school. “I graduated early, so I was only 17 years old and I didn’t want to venture too far from home. I’ve lived rurally my whole life,” she said. “Growing up around here, I saw the disparities we have in the rural health area. There are some patients that just need a little bit of extra help—not being in a hospital setting—so the health coaches program helps the students and helps the clients work together to form goals to better each other.”
In addition to Demeter’s graduate assistantship with the health coach program, she is doing an internship with the St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging (OFA), where she has been seeing firsthand how people navigate the healthcare system. In addition to writing articles and recipes for the OFA newsletter, “Mature Living,” Demeter has been able to attend meetings with Nancy Green, the county’s health insurance, as Green provides counseling to older adults about Medicare benefits.
The tuition for Demeter’s master’s program is completely covered through her work as a graduate assistant for the health coach program. “I’m so blessed…This graduate assistantship is definitely one of the best things that have happened to me at SUNY Potsdam,” Demeter said.
She has been impressed with the range of classes offered through SUNY Potsdam’s community health program. “I love all of my professors in my department. Brent Crow is awesome! He’s a professor that can teach you in a way that you forget that you’re learning because what he says is so interesting—he says it in such a fun upbeat manner,” she said.
Her favorite class, Health Policy, was taught by Dr. Janelle Jacobson—the most influential professor she’s had at SUNY Potsdam.
“I learned just how much policy and politics really influence our everyday lives, especially with healthcare…I really learned how the healthcare system works, and the struggles that people face trying to navigate it. And I just want to be someone who can make it a little easier for people to get the health services that they deserve,” Demeter said.
Next semester she will be doing an internship with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, as well as continuing her work for the Office of the Aging by conducting interviews for a needs assessment project on the aging population in St. Lawrence County. After all of her hard work, she will be graduating with her master’s degree in community health on May 19 — the same day she will be celebrating her 23rd birthday.
For more information about the M.S. in Community Health visit: www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/CommunityHealth/msincommunityhealth