Purpose: Mississippi is one of sickest states according to national assessments and ranks 49th for overall health outcomes. In addition, Mississippi is the most overweight and obese state, the least physically active state, and ranks second in adult hypertension. This paper reviews the development and three-year assessment of a novel wellness coaching program developed at one southeastern university in a partnership with a foundation whose primary interest was to see more wellness and lifestyle coaching offered in primary medical clinics in the state. Methodology: A model for training graduate students in wellness coaching was envisioned and interdisciplinary training model developed. The design and implementation of the program is described, as well as the programmatic evaluation of the first 3 cohorts of interns including the types of conditions coached and the overall intern experience. Results: Interns were placed in 9 different Mississippi counties over the first three years. In total, 1,186 patients were coached in the field over the three years by 15 interns. Of those, 74% were new patients and 26% were follow-up patients at the clinics. The top three reasons for wellness coaching were weight management (n=252, 21.3%) followed by diabetes (n=238, 20.1%), and metabolic issues (n=204, 17.2%). Interns were surprised at the level of comorbidities and low health literacy, and overall ratings from medical practitioners and staff were very favorable. Conclusion: Graduate level wellness coaching training can develop coaches to aid clinical healthcare providers in reaching patients in need of setting personal lifestyle-related goals for improving overall health outcomes. Interns must be prepared in states like Mississippi for complications such as low health literacy and low literacy situations as well as the comorbidities that a typical patient will have. Barriers to successful interaction with the wellness coach can be mitigated by having staff fully understand their role.

Author Bio(s)

Marion W. Evans, Jr. PhD, MCHES is an Executive Associate Dean and Professor of Public Health at The University of Southern Mississippi, College of Nursing and Health Professions in Hattiesburg, MS

Melissa Cox, PhD, CHES is an adjunct professor at Mississippi State University in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion in Starkville, MS

Melkia Forooshani, MD is a graduate student in health promotion at Mississippi State University in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion in Starkville, MS


The authors are grateful for the funding provided by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation (BCBSMSF-2018-131B) and full support of the wellness coaching program, from conception to implementation. In addition, they wish to thank the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station for research support.





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