Using Zoom, NHS Undergraduates Teach Health Literacy in Alaska Literacy Program

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August 3, 2020 – Through a course on health promotion and disease prevention taught by Professor Joan Riley, associate professor of human science, undergraduates Janessa Mendoza (NHS’22) and Sannidhi Shashikiran (NHS’22) learned about an opportunity to teach through the Alaska Literacy Program (ALP).

Sannidhi Shashikiran (NHS’22) stands before trees.
Sannidhi Shashikiran (NHS’22)

While the original intent was to travel to Alaska for the experience, the undergraduate students – due to COVID-19 – instead taught the subject of health literacy virtually using Zoom.

“I hope to have provided our adult English Language Learners with tools to both promote personal health and effectively navigate the U.S. health care system,” said Shashikiran, who majors in health care management & policy.

Health Literacy

“My goal was to ensure that our students feel more comfortable during health care visits and have a working understanding of commonly used medical jargon and to ensure that they know where to find additional assistance within the community if needed,” said Shashikiran. “We covered topics such as mental health, insurance, understanding prescriptions, oral health, nutrition, and COVID-19.” 

Mendoza, a human science major, said she was enthusiastic to participate given what she had learned in Riley’s class about the very low health literacy proficiency among adults.

“I thought this teaching opportunity would be the perfect step in closing the gap on the literacy disparity,” Mendoza said. “My goals were to establish a good rapport among the students – despite being on Zoom, to create a comfortable environment for them to practice speaking English, to help them understand health care systems and medical terminology commonly used in the U.S., and to provide additional resources that would be useful to them in Anchorage.”

Janessa Mendoza sits for a photograph with grass and a building behind her
Janessa Mendoza (NHS’22)

She added that they created a “very interactive and engaging” course with review games, including practicing appointments, pharmacy pickups, and symptoms descriptions, as well as understanding labeling.

Applying Education 

“Working with the ALP this summer has been an immensely rewarding experience, and I have learned a great deal from our students due to their diverse backgrounds and interesting class discussions,” said Shashikiran, who is a research intern at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital with Dr. Carolyn Ecelbarger, vice president of the Hindu Students Association, and treasurer of GU Women in STEM, among other activities.

“I am thankful for the NHS’s comprehensive health education and was able to use my knowledge to help increase health literacy in the Anchorage community by supporting adult ELLs,” said Shashikiran, who added she found the courses “Healthcare in America” (Dr. Robin Goldenberg), the “Politics of Healthcare” (Dr. Purva Rawal), and “Delivering Care Across the Continuum” (Dr. Laura Anderko) to be “very beneficial and an inspiration” in developing a module they taught on health insurance.

Mendoza said she has truly valued this opportunity and her education at Georgetown, including close relationships with faculty in the Department of Human Science. 

“I’m proud to be a Georgetown NHS student and am very grateful to have interacted with so many people with diverse interests and talents,” said Mendoza, who is president of Club Filipino and has worked in the O’Neill Family Foundation Clinical Simulation Center and researched with Dr. Alex Theos, associate professor of human science.

“Although Sannidhi and I weren’t physically able to enjoy the sights of Alaska and could not develop in-person relationships with our students, we hope that we made it easier for the students to communicate and understand basic health and medical language,” she added. “We hope that we inspired them to persevere in their path to fluency.”

By Bill Cessato