It’s National Health Education Week! Here at the Health Center, Health Educators are important members of the health care team. They link with patients, community members, and organizations to promote healthy lifestyle choices. Whether they are developing culturally appropriate educational materials with clinical staff, providing individual counseling or group educational workshops, or conducting health screenings at a community event, our Health Educators are invaluable to carrying out the Health Center’s mission.
We spoke with Eileen (Ai Ling) Zhang, the Health Education Department’s resident expert on workshops and community outreach. Eileen has been a Health Educator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center since 2000.
DN: Why did you become a health educator?
EZ: I became a health educator because of my past experience as a teacher. I taught in China as well as the U.S., so I have had many chances to work with students. While teaching, I discovered that my students did not know about many health issues. Questions about diet like, “How much rice should I eat for my diabetes?” came up a lot. In fact, when I first started working at the Health Center, I was involved in a project on how cancer is related to diet.
DN: Tell us about your role at the Health Center.
EZ: I work with a team dedicated to creating education tools and disseminating health messages in many ways, including print materials, social media, and digital media. My language skills play a big part in my role. I know English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and other Chinese dialects, which is why I do a lot of outreach and facilitate many workshops, including medical terminology classes for our providers. I enjoy meeting people and teaching. Another role I have is reviewing our bilingual health education materials. They are developed with clinical staff to address the health issues that matter most to Asian and Chinese Americans. I review the Chinese translation to make sure the medical information is easy to understand. I think this is important because these materials are useful for our patients and community members. I am happy to play a role in helping people understand the health messages in them and make the materials more accessible through outreach.
DN: What health issues are you most passionate about?
EZ: Healthy diet and exercise. I think these two issues are very important for our community. We eat every day and there are so many options, so we have to think about which foods are healthy. Exercise is important too. This can be hard for people who work long hours and go home tired. Many people in the community work well into the night and don’t think it is possible to exercise, but there are stretching and chair exercises you can do at home, even while watching TV. I told a workshop participant about these exercises and saw him make changes in his life. With regular exercise, he ended up losing weight and even came back to another workshop to tell me about it. These experiences—seeing people make behavioral changes—make me feel like I’m making a difference.
DN: Can you tell us about a time when you felt that your job was important?
EZ: Once, I gave a workshop about cholesterol. Everyone listened so carefully—they even took notes! After the workshop, someone came up to me and said, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol.” These things aren’t always explained by busy doctors. Health educators play a big role in conveying these pieces of information to community members. After this workshop, many people said there need to be more workshops like this.