Jamie Mueller remembers the frustration of hearing her medical diagnosis from her mom rather than her doctor.
Mueller, 18, learned indirectly she was epileptic, and when it came time for each of her two brain surgeries, it was her mother with whom physicians discussed the risks and outcomes, not her.
“It was disheartening,” Mueller says.
Now, the Holmen High School senior is empowering her peers to take charge of their health care as a teen educator for PATCH: Providers and Teens Communicating for Health, a program from the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health now offered in the Coulee Region.
Led by coordinator Angela Gelatt, the group, which launched locally in December, is comprised of eight high schoolers who meet two to four times per month for enrichment meetings, training and guest speakers to prepare for leading both PATCH for Teens and PATCH for Providers workshops.
The teen educators are paid to lead the 60- to 90-minute programs, and will facilitate their first workshop on Monday at Seven Rivers High School, followed later in the week by a providers session with Gundersen Health System family medicine residents.
Peer-to-peer workshops focus on forming a positive relationship with health- care providers, understanding their rights, managing and scheduling their own appointments, and feeling comfortable addressing their medical needs or concerns openly and honestly.
Provider workshops address breaking down communication barriers with teen patients, talking through sensitive topics in a confidential and non-judgmental manner and equipping patients with the education and resources they need.
“As a teen, we need to let providers know, ‘Hey, talk to us,’” said teen educator Molly Frey, 16, a Logan High School sophomore. “It’s hard with our age gap, we kind of get looked down at a lot. I’m learning to speak up and ask the right questions to make sure I’m getting the care I need to live longer and healthier.”
Frey, who has undergone two liver transplants and often felt excluded from conversations between her parents and physicians, says as she approaches college age it is more important than ever to learn to advocate for herself.
It is crucial for teens to ask questions, Frey says, while teen educator Norah Fimple, 14, a Central High School freshman, encourages informing oneself about patient-doctor confidentiality and other rights.
Guest speakers — including UW-L professor Lori Reichel on sexual health positivity; The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection’s Alicia Schandelmeier on sexual and gender identities; and La Crosse County Health Department educator Judi Zabel on marijuana risks and legalization issues — have helped enlighten and inform the teen educators on issues pertaining to their peers.
Mueller says YMCA mental health director Sarah Johnson’s talk will help her address depression or anxiety with her peers, while Frey found Essential Health Clinic community engagement manager Karolee Behringer offered valuable ways to broach potentially awkward conversations about birth control.
Gelatt says the PATCH members have immersed themselves in the training. They’re engaging with the speakers and excited to have a positive influence on the community.
“They’re definitely more confident in the material,” Gelatt said. “They make it their own and share their personal stories and authentic point of view. It’s really inspiring.”
For more information on PATCH, visit www.wipatch.org.
An open attendance PATCH for Providers workshop will be offered from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, and a PATCH-for-Teens Workshop will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. April 18. Both workshops will be held at the YMCA Teen Center, 1105 King St., and are free and open to the public.