BETTER Women: How volunteer peer support is helping to improve health outcomes for women

2021-04-20 2:47:29 PM

This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Women’s College Hospital Foundation’s biannual newsletter Women’s Now. To read the full newsletter, click here.
 
When Wendy Daniels heard the new BETTER Women program – a joint initiative between Women’s College Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society – was recruiting volunteer peer health coaches, she didn’t think twice. In fact, she thought of her mother.
 
“My mom had diabetes and passed away from complications quite young, at 73,” she says. “I think if she had better coaching around her diet and exercise, she might have lived a longer and healthier life.”
 
After her mother’s death, Wendy developed a passion for preventive healthcare and even trained as a registered holistic nutritionist.
 
“I’m a big believer in prevention,” she says. “When someone gets just a bit of coaching on what to do to improve their health outcomes, the results are pretty compelling.”
 
A long-time patient, fundraising volunteer and donor to Women’s College Hospital’s Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Wendy knew the BETTER Women program would be transformative. As a highly innovative approach to preventive healthcare that empowers women to reduce their risk of chronic illnesses – like cancer, heart disease and diabetes – by adopting manageable diet and lifestyle changes, BETTER Women goes a step further by connecting women with volunteer peer health coaches who help them stay on track.
 
“It’s one thing to have your doctor tell you that you need to exercise more or cut down on the sugar, but most people need a little encouragement and follow-up to stick with their goals,” she says. “The BETTER Women program model is so simple but so impactful, and it’s exactly in line with the hospital’s commitment to developing and scaling innovative, prevention-focused initiatives.”
 
BETTER Women’s use of volunteer peer health coaches draws on evidence that trained volunteers can be highly effective in helping patients – particularly women – adopt and maintain preventive behaviours. And as an initiative that doesn’t add costs to the healthcare system, the model is highly sustainable as a long-term solution to address growing rates of chronic diseases among women.
 
The Canadian Cancer Society is currently recruiting volunteers for the program in Toronto, Peel Region and Barrie, who will undergo rigorous training before being matched with women participating in the pilot program. Once matched, volunteers will regularly meet with patients – virtually or in person – to review their progress toward their goals and provide positive encouragement.
 
Individuals interested in volunteering with BETTER Women do not need to have a background in healthcare or health-related disciplines. The most important attributes in a volunteer? A passion for helping others and the ability to commit a few hours of time each month. Volunteer registration is open to individuals who identify as a woman, are between the ages of 40 and 65, and have lived experience setting personal health goals such as getting active, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake or staying up to date on recommended screening.
 
While coaching sessions will need to take place online due to COVID-19, BETTER Women is a powerful opportunity for individuals like Wendy to connect with other women who are hoping to improve their health.
 
“Helping people make small changes that produce huge results will be very inspiring,” she says. “I’m excited about the opportunity to support patients in their personal health goals and I look forward to being part of a network of people committed to providing help to those who need it.”
 
BETTER Women is made possible through joint funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, the Peter Gilgan Foundation, Women’s College Hospital Foundation and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
 
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer peer health coach with BETTER Women? Find out more at www.cancer.ca/BETTERWomen or email the Canadian Cancer Society at BETTERWomen@cancer.ca.