Friday, October 23, 2009

What if a Student Becomes ill on a People to People Ambassador Program?

We are often asked what happens if a student becomes ill on one of our programs, and I thought I'd address the question for you today.

At People to People Ambassador Programs, we teach all leaders to monitor a sick or injured student. What does this mean? Well, it means that we take care of every situation with intelligent and thorough training of our staff, mixed with care and compassion, and we bring in a medical professional as warranted. It means that one of our site staff, leaders, or representatives will stay behind from the day's scheduled activities and will continue to monitor the student frequently to make sure they are comfortable, safe, and well cared for. The leader will also make sure they provide the special meal service the student needs. For a more serious injury or illness, the student is taken to the nearest medical professional for evaluation. If it is determined that the student needs to remain in the hospital overnight, then the leader will stay in the facility overnight as well if permitted by the medical staff.

I had just this situation happen myself while traveling on a Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. last fall. A student arrived on program with the beginning stages of pneumonia, and our leaders realized very quickly that the student was ill. I went with the student in an ambulance, and after immediately notifying the guardian, we spent the next two days together in the hospital. (The student got the bed and I took the unusually uncomfortable semi-reclining chair in the corner of the room.) But I was happy to be there and to make sure the student was safe and as comfortable as possible. In this case, the legal guardian couldn't make it there quickly, and I was happy to serve as a stand-in for them, filling our wait times with video games, card duels and snacks.

What if the Student has a Pre-Existing Condition?
Many of us on staff are parents ourselves and we try to handle each situation with a student as we would our own kids. I know I felt very much that way, as a parent of two sons. My oldest is 17 years old, and at just 23 months old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. From that day on, his mother and I have helped with the difficulties of living with this disease. Now, my son gives himself his own shots and performs his own glucose tests. He uses injections as he thinks the insulin pump is too intrusive. At 17, he wants to be like everyone else, and he is finding his own way, so it's difficult to get him to test himself when he should, to take the shot before he eats, and to test after he has given himself a shot to see if the insulin was effective.

Like most teens, he is also a little rebellious and wants his own freedom. And, like most teenagers, he sometimes tries to hide things from us, or keeps important facts to himself. So we end up being a bit of a detective from time to time. They are all trying to learn to be independent adults, finding their own way. But, the truth is, as a parent it is always hard to let go, and I think it is even harder as a parent of a diabetic or a parent with a child with any other illness. But I'll use diabetes as an example here as it is a topic close to me and my family.

What am I doing about it?
With my son in mind, I wrote a very comprehensive Diabetic Student program with input from many other sources, including one of the top diabetes specialists in the country, along with input from staff and board members of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a board I'm now a member of. I previously served on the JDRF Board in Denver, Colorado, and I'm very familiar with the foundation's mission and goals. We built this program as an extension of existing procedures and put it into place this last year with most of the diabetic students traveling with People to People Ambassador Programs. We are further extending the program in 2010, when every diabetic will follow our comprehensive program. In general, the guide outlines various steps, like a phone call from the student to the parent or guardian - no matter the time of day - when and if the glucose readings fall outside of the range provided by the parent or guardian. This very comprehensive program and set of procedures should reduce the possibility of an incident during travel, and give greater peace of mind to parents and students alike.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!



  1. I was very glad to read your awareness of how difficult it is as a parent to send your diabetic child far away. My daughter is 12 years old and has type one diabetes. She has been offered a slot in your Washington DC program. When I first called your program, I asked for a return call from the nurse or medical director of your program to be sure she would be safe. I never received a return call. My daughter would like very much to participate in your program, but I need to speak with an adult that would be in charge of keeping her safe before i agree to let her go. I look forward to your reply. And i will also try calling again. Miriam Doern

  2. I apologize no one has returned your call. Normally, a student would first enroll and then a packet is shipped to the family with important information, including a health form. Once the family fills out all the required information and returns the form to us, the student is placed on a medical hold. All medical holds are then processed by the medical team only.

    The medical team would then contact the parent/guardian and explain our diabetics policy and forward to the family a diabetes addendum which calls for more, very specific, information that will help us support your child in monitoring their condition while on program.

    Once all information is received and the student is removed from medical hold and the medical team contacts the leader who will be responsible for your student. The World Leadership Program differs from the student programs in that the leader doesn't get to personally meet the student until they arrive on program. For the Student Programs around the world, the leader meets with the family and student during the four to six pre-travel meetings.

    Once on the World Leadership Forum, the student sits with the leader and goes over all medical equipment and supplies the student uses to control this disease.

    Typically, we make contact with the families of diabetics after they have enrolled. Up to that point we believe the student should be treated the same as any other student. This is actually an ADA law just like in the workplace. In a workplace, you must first be offered a position and that offer can be pending a medical examination. Basically, the same rule applies in accordance with article three of the ADA laws. These rules are in place to ensure your child is not discriminated in the way they are treated, just because they are diabetic, which is a covered class in the ADA laws.

    In addition to this, sometimes a mother just wants to talk to us before they make the decision to travel and that is fine, too. Please feel free to send an email ( to me with your contact information and either my medical team or I will call you directly with the information you seek on how we plan to protect and keep your child safe.