An interview with Nicole Jurgens, a health coach working with diabetics in Monterey County

July 6, 2021
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Health coaches at Aspire Health offer personalized one-on-one support to help Aspire Health Plan members and the community meet health goals, access health resources, and reduce risks or complications related to chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes — a condition that affects far too many adults in Monterey County. Nicole Jurgens is one of these health coaches. “Health Coaching is an opportunity to shift our focus from barriers that hold us back, to the many elements of our health that we can control. We empower patients to gain perspective on all aspects of their lifestyle habits and routines. Lifestyle habits include the way we eat and shop for foods, how much we move our bodies, and the ways we manage our time, stress, and sleep schedules to name a few,” she says. We recently asked her a few questions about her role.

1. What are the different elements of a health coaching program?

The goal of the health coaching program is to empower patients to be active members of their health.  Rather than just going to their doctor and relying on them to manage their health, we encourage patients to partner with their doctors. As a health coach, I focus on preventive health like coordinating diabetic eye exams, lab work, A1c tests and cholesterol screenings. Then the “heart” of my work is helping patients envision their healthiest self. Sometimes, we all get stuck in a rut of feeling like we accept where we’re at, and we don’t really dream or set goals anymore. As health coaches, we help patients imagine “What if you were feeling the best that you could feel. What would that look like?” This brings up someone’s motivation, and then we break their vision down into manageable steps. A lot of people know what they could do to be healthier, they just don’t know how to do it, and it’s hard to change habits and behaviors. The primary focus of a coach is getting patients to believe in their power to take action.

2. What are the benefits of a health coaching program for Aspire Health Plan members?

It is a free benefit for Aspire members and each member has access to a personal health coach with a background in behavior change and chronic condition management. For example, my background is in nutrition and dietetics. It’s a very flexible program designed to meet a member’s needs by being both convenient and reliable. Coaching over the phone allows accessible, easy, and more regular check ins.

3. Talk about how you partner with care managers and social workers and how you/they help members manage chronic illnesses and get the care they need.

A lot of times the three different roles — health coach, care manager, and social worker — refer very fluidly to each other. For example, I may receive a referral from a care manager whose patient is controlling their condition well. Once they are ready to focus on lifestyle and day-to-day habits, they will often come to me (as a health coach). Social workers are great at knowing what resources are available to people in the community to help them overcome big barriers such as financial concerns, a support system, transportation, etc. As a health coach, I consult with our social workers and can connect members with them directly when that support is needed.

4. How does the health coaching program help those with type 2 diabetes manage their condition?

With health coaching, we really focus on where the patient is at. For example, a new diagnosis can overwhelm a patient and make them feel defeated. It’s important at this point to look at self-management and to help the patient understand directions from the physician, understand why they are taking prescribed medications, and supporting their use of a blood sugar monitor and other self-monitoring tools. From there, it’s about finding areas where a patient is most comfortable making changes to start. For some people, that’s nutrition, and for others that might be exercise, stress management, or sleep habits. It is all very customized.

5. What would you say to members who are unaware of their access to the health coaching program?

We all know some of the things we can do to be healthy, but it’s really hard to actually do it. So, we don’t just focus on education and following guidelines, we also focus on those actions the patient is ready to take in order to feel better.

COVID-19 and the challenges it brought showed us that everyone needs support. It is important to have someone to discuss goals with, since it is not always easy to make changes. For Nicole, what she finds most rewarding about her work as a health coach is helping people realize that they can achieve things that they didn’t think they could. “Hearing ‘I feel so good’ from patients on the phone is my biggest reward,” she says.

It gives someone so much confidence knowing that their actions really matter. Nicole recalls two recent Aspire Health Plan members who, through coaching, have been losing weight and making lifestyle changes including improved blood sugar and cholesterol. The number one struggle is being hard on oneself, so having a support person there really helped boost their confidence and recognize their progress. “Overall, when we get caught in the day-to-day, we don’t see the big picture,” she says. “I get to help people look up and celebrate their successes. It’s important to practice cheering ourselves on.”

One of the successes of the health coaching program is when members learn skills and become their own advocate, their own coach, and a compassionate caring person toward themselves. As an Aspire member, you have no-cost access to an enhanced care team including health coaching services delivered by certified healthcare professionals with knowledge in chronic condition management. To request more information, call us today at (831) 644-7490.

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