Implementing Peer Leaders Into Health and Prevention

Students from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine have spoken with peer leaders at North Miami High and Palmetto High to learn about their experiences educating their fellow students about sexual health. In both settings, peer leaders expressed the feeling that by virtue of being students themselves, they are better able to connect and relate with their peers, both in terms of understanding what their peers might be going through, and also in terms of conveying information in ways that their peers will be able to relate with. The peer leaders described how they work to preempt questions that their peers might have; they are aware that even if students do not speak up to ask questions, they might still have personal concerns about the topics at hand. Knowing this, the peer leaders described how they strive to address these types of common-yet-sensitive questions in group settings, thereby alleviating the need for individual students to expose themselves.

The peer leaders described how they utilize a wide variety of educational materials to help captivate and educate their peers. They employ creative techniques such as educational games, anonymous question and answer systems, and parent workshops. The students at North Miami have been particularly diligent in developing their peer education curriculum, and have won acclaim at statewide HOSA competitions. However, despite their successes and diligent work, the peer leaders noted that distinct barriers remain. Students at North Miami pointed to social stigma, challenges obtaining parent consent for treatment at the clinic, administrative pushback, student mistrust of the clinic, lack of privacy in the school clinic and resource scarcity (lack of enough trust counselors) as key barriers to adequate clinic access among their peers. Students at Palmetto cited administrative barriers and pushback, the lack of an on-site school clinic, and social stigma amongst students as key barriers to care for their peers. In response to these challenges, students at North Miami felt that changing social perceptions of the clinic among students, reducing stigma, and increasing privacy during and surrounding clinic visits would help increase student utilization of the clinic. Students at Palmetto felt that establishing a care center that could provide STI testing and condoms on site would be the most beneficial in helping their peers attain better healthcare access and sexual health.

As a result of their experiences speaking with peer leaders at North Miami and Palmetto, the medical students were struck by the centrality of social dynamics in determining student utilization of healthcare services. Given this, the medical students propose that student peer leaders should be central to the design and implementation of sexual health education in these schools. The medical students are now working with peer leaders to help create a resource that can address common misconceptions and social stigma against clinic utilization among students in the two schools.

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