While health systems have been strategic and thoughtful in becoming health literate organizations over the years, improved individual health literacy isn’t as much of a priority. Health literacy is one’s ability to access, understand and apply health information or services. This ability, or competency, is a necessary skill for all members of a community and can look like accessing a preventive service like COVID-19 vaccination, scheduling your annual doctor’s visit or asking for an interpreter in a clinical setting.
The Health and Human Services Department of the City of Rockford, IL, sought to find a unique way of invigorating the discussion around health literacy in its community, in a way that would resonate and make a lasting impact. With research by the WHO supporting the role that art can play in improving health and well-being and the National Academy of Medicine stating that artistic expression is an underutilized manner of gathering critical insights from community members, Rockford leveraged the power of art to educate its residents—particularly the younger populations who are hardest to reach—about the importance of health literacy.
The City of Rockford’s Rockford Ready Initiative is currently using poetry as a vehicle to communicate the relevance and importance of personal health literacy.
As Rockford Ready’s communications partner, CURA Strategies identified Giulyana Gamero as the perfect storyteller for this project. Named City of Rockford’s 2022 Youth Poet, Giulyana’s passion for the community and her conviction in art’s impact on youth shines through in her artwork. Working with the Rockford Regional Arts Council, we engaged Giulyana in writing a series of poems for the Rockford Ready initiative to help educate younger populations about the meaning and importance of health literacy. We also worked with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Office of Health Literacy to ensure all messaging in the poetry series aligned with health literacy communication best practices. The five-part poetry series launched this week. Check out the trailer:
We also sat down with the Giulyana Gamero to ask her about her hopes and dreams for this project. Below are the highlights of our interview.
CURA: What do you hope your poems accomplish?
Giulyana Gamero: I hope that my poems help people not be afraid to ask questions [in a health care setting]. As someone that is anxious, I definitely struggle with asking questions myself, but at the end of the day, is it really worth the risk of [your health]? I don’t think so.
CURA: Tell us more about how you wrote these poems.
Giulyana: A lot of my poems incorporate an emphasis on urgency, specifically when it comes to this project. I was trying to accomplish [communicating] the theme of self-advocacy. I think, by far, that is one of the most important skills we can learn in life. You need to learn how to help yourself. The overall nature of the health care system is intimidating, so we need to find a way to [overcome that perception].
CURA: What is your experience with health care and your interest in improving health literacy?
Giulyana: My father was born in Mexico and is bilingual but is definitely more comfortable speaking in Spanish. A lot of the health care providers here don’t really speak Spanish. I often see his look of confusion when things don’t make sense. He’ll ask my mom to translate or me sometimes. I definitely feel like I have a big tie to the desire to help, but also to help [others] help themselves.
CURA: What does health literacy have to do with young people?
Giulyana: Health literacy really does impact young people because, in understanding it sooner, we get to know more as we develop and as we have to make more [health] decisions for ourselves.
Learn more about Rockford Ready and watch the full Health Literacy Poetry Series at rockfordready.org.