Training the Trainer: PA Students Teach About Smiles

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine second year PA student Matthew Morrow, along with faculty advisor Elana Min, PhD, PA-C, and Medical Curriculum Coordinator Sam Ritchey, are providing brighter smiles and healthier futures for at-risk-youth in Chicago. They partnered with the “Children Teaching Children” program to teach an oral health education program to teen mentors, who in turn led educational sessions for elementary school students.

“Children Teaching Children” (CTC), a peer-led preventive health education program, is part of the Chicago Youth Programs (CYP). The CYP was founded in 1984 by Northwestern University medical students and provides over 40 comprehensive programs to at-risk youth ages 3-25.

Through CTC, Morrow led a team of 9 Northwestern PA students who piloted a “train the trainer” program to teach oral health education in their community. Over a period of three weeks, PA students taught one-hour oral health education sessions to eight 7th and 8th graders who had volunteered to be teen mentors to younger students in their community.

Using resources from Smiles for Life, Colgate Bright Smiles Bright Future®, and the American Dental Association®, PA students taught the teen mentors the basics of oral health, common oral health diseases, and preventive dental care during weeks one and two. In the third week, earlier concepts were reinforced and the teen mentors then developed their own plans for sharing what they had learned.

In week four, the teen mentors, with support from Northwestern PA students, put their oral health knowledge into practice by leading a one-hour program with elementary school students (ages 7 to 12). Interactive educational activities, including plaque tablet demonstrations, strengthened the curriculum and were engaging for the students. Additionally, each participant received an oral health gift bag containing floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a brushing calendar, and plaque tablets—tools to help them continue their new oral hygiene habits at home.

The program was a success. Before the educational sessions, the teen mentors rated their knowledge of oral health at 5 out of 10, and their confidence in teaching oral health 4.1 of 10. After the project, the teen mentors rated their knowledge level at 9.3 out of 10, and their confidence to teach oral health 9.6 out of 10.

"The CTC program is impactful because it affords students the opportunity to not only see themselves as leaders but as educators as well. Through the oral health grant, our 7th - 8th grade mentors were both able to learn about an important health topic they often have limited access to and take ownership of that education by teaching our elementary aged participants. Both mentors and younger participants alike expressed how much fun they had; suffice it to say, everyone was all smiles," said Chelsea Corbett, MSW, Uptown Youth Program Manager, Chicago Youth Programs.

Similarly, Northwestern PA student participants rated their oral health knowledge prior to the program at 4 out of 10, and their confidence level in their ability to teach oral health to others was rated at just 3 out of 10. After the program, average self-ratings for both knowledge and confidence jumped to 9 out of 10, demonstrating the impact of this outreach in reinforcing education.

“By educating populations at risk, the project aimed to both help fight oral disease and equip PAs with the knowledge to continue the education during future examinations,” said Morrow.

Morrow and his team plan to submit a proposal to present a poster for next year’s AAPA conference and other PA educational events. The program’s success will also be shared with the Chicago Youth Programs as a basis to support and continue this new preventive health program.

“I am confident that my classmates are now able to implement an oral health screening in just a minute or two as a result of the project, allowing for a long-lasting impact of the project,” added Morrow.

This project was funded by the nccPA Health Foundation’s Oral Health Outreach grant. Learn more here.

(posted June 2019)

  • My personal highlights from leading Northwestern’s efforts fit into three major categories – addressing health disparities in my community, building fruitful relationships with underserved communities and their stakeholders, and equipping PAs with the knowledge and skills to advance oral health awareness, prevention, and treatment.

    ---- PA Student Matthew Morrow

Mr. Morrow teaches flossing basics.

An “egg-cellent” way to learn to brush teeth! Students brushed the dye off the eggs as a method of teaching basic oral hygiene.

Cheese! Plaque tablets were used as an interactive activity with elementary students to emphasize the importance of proper brushing technique.

Northwestern PA students having fun with the teen mentor volunteers. The mentors enjoyed the plaque tablet activity just as much as the elementary students!

Check out the work of past Foundation grantees in our Spotlight Archive.