One-stop Clinic at NCCU Takes Holistic Approach to Wellness
North Carolina Central University’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences has embarked on a creative collaboration to make it easier for members of the university community and their neighbors to live all-around healthier lives.
The one-stop Behavioral Health & Wellness Clinic on the second floor of the Miller-Morgan Building is based on a model of integrated health care, considered the most effective way to achieve overall good health, said Seronda Robinson, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Public Health Education and co-director of the clinic.
“By providing an integrated health model, we focus on the whole person and bring the various disciplines together to achieve optimal health,” says Dr. Robinson.
“The center offers basic cardiovascular health exams, along with assessments for sports injuries, fitness capabilities, dietary needs and mental-health screenings.”
To identify learning issues such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder, psycho-educational evaluations are offered to students who are referred to the clinic by Student Accessibility Services.
In addition to offering this wide palette of services, the wellness clinic also benefits NC Central students by providing opportunities for hands-on training in human sciences/dietetics, physical education, psychology, public health education, social work and nursing. All students are supervised by licensed faculty from the appropriate departments.
“I switched from nursing to public health education because I decided I’d rather prevent people from getting sick than treating them for illness,” said Tiffaney Spruill, a junior from Raleigh. “Working in the clinic gives me an opportunity to do that by educating patients about their health.”
Graduate students in the Department of Psychology provide psycho-educational evaluations, as well as behavioral, personality, and cognitive assessments. Students who are identified as needing ongoing care are referred to NCCU’s Student Health and Counseling Center, but counseling services for non-students may be provided on-site, as needed.
Graduate students in social work provide the initial assessment for new clients at the clinic, evaluating their overall social, mental, and physical health.
“Our services are available to students, faculty, staff and the community at large,” said Sherry Eaton, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology and clinic co-director.
By opening its services to neighboring residents, clinic leaders also address the problem of health disparities.
A 2017 National Center for Health Statistics report shows that blacks have the highest rate of hypertension among all ethnic groups. The center also reports that both blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of obesity than whites; however, members of both minority groups are more likely to be uninsured. The picture is the same regarding diabetes.
The Behavioral Health & Wellness Clinic is committed to serving clients on a fee-for-service basis so that costs remain affordable for all income groups.
“We are in the heart of the community, so many can walk to their appointments,” Dr. Eaton said. “This is the population that NCCU is a part of, and so we believe it is important that we are able to provide for this population, whom we know are often underserved.”
Graduate students Brianna Jones and Jessica Miller assist in opening day tours for the new Behaviorial Health & Wellness Clinic.
Grouping a variety of specialties under one roof makes sense, because physical health is impacted by many factors, including exercise, diet and mental health status, Robinson said.
“Someone might come in to be seen for a particular illness but not be aware of how a medication they are taking is interacting with their health,” Robinson said. “Fitness plays a large role in our biological health, as well as nutrition. There are also behaviors that may stem from stress, coping behaviors that have an impact on health.”
Among integrated health issues is the fact that patients with chronic illnesses, such as arthritis or thyroid problems, are at higher risk for depression. Some medications also have negative side effects, such as weight gain and lethargy.
Even an individual’s daily lifestyle can be a factor. Lack of exercise or poor dietary practices can exacerbate cardiovascular conditions, contribute to pre-diabetes, and affect energy and mood.
Students and faculty in the Department of Public Health Education offer seminars, workshops, and programs on health promotion and disease prevention, as well as CPR training.
Tiajah Gilbert, a senior public health education major, is excited about the chance to work in the clinic.
“It helps me understand the role of public health education,” said Gilbert, from Long Island, N.Y. “I can assist patients in learning more about the medication they are taking or how their diet plays a role in health. I can become an advocate for them in achieving wellness.”
Nursing students from the department’s Community Health class, working under the supervision of licensed nursing faculty, conduct physical exams at the clinic. These include basic tests such as cholesterol screenings, blood pressure, and stress tests.
Orthopedic evaluations are done by sports medicine and kinesiology students from the Department of Physical Education and Recreation, who offer prevention tips, as well as rehabilitation plans.
Students in the department’s Fitness Assessment course may provide customized fitness plans based upon test results, while dietetic interns offer dietetic assessments, education and nutritional counseling.
“Most people having a health issue ask first: What kind of medicine do I need to treat it?” Robinson explained.
She’d prefer that patients learn how overall lifestyle components – including fitness, nutrition, and psychological health – are intertwined.
The 360-degree perspective of wellness includes education about outside resources that can assist clients in their journey to better health. “When we find a need for health services we cannot provide, we can refer them out to seek health care before the problems become more serious,” Eaton said. “And we always try to communicate with each client’s primary-care physician.”
Additionally, the Behavioral Health & Wellness Clinic staff is available to conduct outreach for health education through video conferencing, seminars, special events, and other activities.
“It’s the way healthcare is moving, in an integrated model,” Eaton explained.
“We are all whole beings, so looking at all aspects of life when something is ailing just makes sense. Seeing everyone in one place is more efficient. Especially in our community, we see people putting things off because of money or time issues. We want them to be more preventative, to take action before things get really serious.”
Written by Renee Elder, NCCU