A Medical History Lesson

By McEvilly, Caitlin | Dance Teacher, June 2007 | Go to article overview

A Medical History Lesson


McEvilly, Caitlin, Dance Teacher


BUSINESS How-To

Knowing more about your students' overall health can help you become a better teacher.

When she opened her studio, Kathryn Austin, director of Centre for Dance and the Performing Arts in Winter Garden, Florida, didn't think to ask parents for their children's medical information. "About three years later," she says, "I had an incident." One of her students looked winded and asked to go to the bathroom. When the dancer didn't return promptly, Austin went to check on her and found she had collapsed in the dressing room. After paramedics and the girl's mother arrived, Austin found out that she had gone to retrieve an inhaler for her asthma. "I had no idea she had asthma," Austin says. "I had no idea her inhaler was in her locker." For the studio owner, this experience was a wake-up call to the importance of knowing about students' medical conditions.

Your students' dance-related pains and injuries might be part of a typical conversation with them, but what about their allergies, medications and chronic conditions? Knowledge of general health issues can help you deal with medical emergencies at the studio, tailor your teaching to accommodate health problems and demonstrate concern for students' development and well-being. You'll want this information about dancers who regularly attend your school, those who travel with you and those who come for special programs. To create the best records possible, you must know what to ask for and how to ask for it, how to store the information, and how to ensure confidentiality. Once you have a handle on these, you can collect pertinent information efficiently and put it to use in your studio.

* Identify the Vitals

William Dawson, an associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, says the three most important things to know about your students are their chronic illnesses, allergies and medications.

Chronic illnesses like asthma and diabetes can cause potential problems in the classroom. "What if you don't know, and you push a student further than she can go because you think she isn't giving 110 percent?" Austin asks. When you're aware of issues like these, you can discreetly help your students maintain their health regimens (like keeping a snack nearby for a diabetic dancer) and understand their own training limits (like taking a break for an asthmatic).

Amy Welborn, an attorney in Austin, Texas, who studied dance in studios and in college, says food allergies are particularly important to know about. Severe allergies to foods such as peanuts-a common ingredient in many quick snacks like energy bars-require a shot of epinephrine to counter-act a reaction. Renee Griswold, general manager of Milwaukee Ballet School, says one of her students has an extreme peanut allergy, so her teachers know where she keeps the emergency shot. Welborn cautions that being aware of a student's allergy also means you can be held liable for giving her something she is allergic to, so take extra precautions.

Medications are important to understand for many reasons. Away from their parents while at the studio, dancers may need a reminder to take them. Also, side effects may surface during physical activity. Amoxicillin and other antibiotics can cause ailments that you might otherwise ignore, like dizziness and upset stomach. Finally, in case of an emergency, paramedics will need to know what medicines the patient takes in order to avoid dangerous drug combinations.

Besides knowing what you should ask, keep in mind what you shouldn't. Welborn points out that asking about certain illnesses, like AIDS and STDs, and behavioral and mental problems, could be considered discrimination. If parents feel something is relevant, they will disclose it, she says.

* Gather Information

You can use various methods for learning about students, according to your circumstances and personal preferences, but never forget that most of your dancers are under 18. …

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