Student Racine Harris Promotes Wellness in Our Military

When Master of Public Health in physical activity student Racine Harris’ practicum advisor approached her with an opportunity to work at the DiLorenzo TRICARE Health Clinic Fit-to-Win Program at the Pentagon, she jumped at the prospect. She soon met with the director of the Fit-to-Win program, which has been providing fitness and health education as well as wellness services for all Pentagon active duty and civil service personnel since 1987. The Army surgeon general needed Harris’ help to integrate the Fit-to-Win wellness programs and services with its Executive Medicine Clinic, which provides a comprehensive healthcare program and personalized care to government and military leaders in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Harris was responsible for taking an inventory of the services available at the different Executive Medicine clinics, making health care providers aware of these services and developing a concrete referral process.  She worked closely with the Pentagon clinic to develop a process so Executive Medicine patients can more easily take advantage of the clinic’s wellness services such as classes on exercising, food and weight management, smoking cessation and stress management. The clinic also has dietitians on site to provide one-on-one comprehensive nutrition counseling, and exercise physiologists who perform fitness and body composition testing and develop customized training programs for individuals who are injured or need help with weight management.  The program’s running shoe clinic advises patients on the best running shoes and will analyze and make recommendations on how to improve running technique. This service is essential for many members of the military who run every morning as part of their physical training, and who will be running when they are fighting in the field.

A memorable moment for Harris was on her last day when she performed a body fat test on a patient. The patient was so upset by the results of the test that the individual broke down in tears, but Harris was able to provide a different perspective. “It was an incredible moment. I was able to re-focus the conversation to show that it’s not about the number, it’s about changing our lifestyles so we can change the number and be at a point where we are happy with ourselves and our body,” she said.

That’s precisely what Harris hopes to contribute to public health – helping people live in a more balanced and healthy way. “I want to turn the tide on how we live our lives and take charge of some of the things we have the ability to change, and SPHHS has given me the theoretical and academic foundation I need to go further in my career,” she says.

Racine Harris is continuing to work with the Army Surgeon General for her culminating experience and is also currently working for the Arlington County Department of Human Services Public Health Division as a Management Specialist for the Community Health Protection Bureau. She will complete her MPH in physical activity in public health in May 2014.