By Dedra Cordle
Some bad habits can start to form early in life.
“The behavior and choices that we make as adults can often be traced back to what we saw or experienced in childhood,” said Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, the chief wellness officer and the dean of the college of nursing at the Ohio State University. “Our families have such an impact on our lives and what we do.”
But not all of the bad habits that we may learn in childhood, she added, have to stay with us.
“We have the power to change how we live our lives,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old we are when we start that change. What matters is that we are taking the power to make a change.”
Having worked in the health care field for more than three decades, Melnyk knows the impact education can have on an individual’s life.
“The more knowledge we have, the better choices we make,” she said.
It was that knowledge, she says, that prompted her to start a travelling health and wellness fair.
Four years ago, Melnyk began thinking of ways that health care professionals at the university could reach communities throughout the state that may not have access, affordable or otherwise, to health screenings, examinations and resources. Upon brainstorming, she said, the idea came to her – a health tour that is comprised of a variety of health care fields at the university.
“As a land grant school, I believe it is our responsibility to make a positive impact in communities throughout the state, not just in our neighboring area,” she said. “We have to pay it forward.”
Melnyk began reaching out to the deans of a numbers of colleges at the university to see if their students would be willing to participate in this tour as part of their clinical experience.
Gage Keaton, a senior at the college of nursing, said participating in this tour was one of the things he looked forward to.
“It gives us real world experience where we are able to engage with the community that we will be serving,” he said.
When the tour, which is called Wellness on Wheels, hit the road in 2014, they primarily parked in more rural communities but Melnyk thought it was important to branch out this year.
“I wanted the focus to be on students,” she said. “I think it is vital that they learn about healthy lifestyle choices and healthy coping skills during this phase in their lives.
“So many young adults, I have seen, make poor choices and have no idea how to cope with stress or know how to address their mental health issues,” she said. “Many children are struggling with mental health issues but there is still such a stigma around it.”
She said she knew right away that mental health professionals must be available at all of their stops, particularly at the schools.
This year, Wellness on Wheels had visited schools in Chillicothe and Waverly and have recently made their first stop in the Columbus area.
On Nov. 30, undergraduate and postgraduate students set up stations throughout the library at Grove City High School and filled the tables with medical equipment, assessment tests, fact sheets and brochures for additional information and resources.
School nurse Jodi Smelko-Schneider said she was amazed when she saw all of the resources that were available for the students taking a health class this semester.
“When they contacted me about this program a few months ago,” she said, “I thought it was a great idea but I couldn’t exactly picture it in my mind. I thought it would just be a few tables set out with papers and there would be limited hands-on interactions but I am just blown away by what this program is offering.
“Unfortunately, we as a school and district are limited in what screenings we can offer to our students, but I know with this tour being here some students will have the opportunity to be screened for health issues they would not have until they were older, if at all.”
Health teacher Linda Conti said she too was impressed by the tour.
“When Jodi told me about this a month ago, I wasn’t sure the students would be engaged or willing to participate,” she said. “But as you look around you see our kids getting examinations, talking with the university students and showing a greater interest in their health.”
She also said it was wonderful to see screenings about topics they have touched upon in class, but would have loved to have seen a table from the university’s division of dermatology.
“We are going through a unit on skin and I wished they would have had one of those (skin imaging devices),” she said. “It has actually inspired me to look at grant opportunities that may be out there.”
The university students stayed at the high school all day, offering dental examinations, mental health screenings, biometrics, food nutrition tips and strength and flexibility assessments.
But not all news was good news at the fair. Several students learned they had cavities – Dr. Sid Kannan stressed the importance of proper hygiene – and some learned they were not as tall as they were led to believe.
“I always thought I was 5’9” but they told me I was 5’8”,” said senior Josh Castle with a sigh. “I was disappointed when I heard that but all together I think this program is pretty cool. It’s exciting to learn about your body, your health and what you can do to improve your life.”
Currently, there are no plans for the Wellness on Wheels tour to become a yearly fixture at the school or in the district, but Principal Bryan O’Shea said he would love to have them come back.
“It’s a wonderful program that is a true benefit to our students,” he said. “I wish they all would have been able to experience it.”
If schools wish to inquire about hosting Wellness on Wheels, Dr. Bernadette Melnyk said staff or administrators can email her at Melnyk15@osu.edu.