NEWS | September 6, 2017

"Doctor PE" deepens K-6 students' connections with health

UC Davis resident physicians teach physical education at rural elementary school


When Walnut Grove Elementary School principal Carrie Norris was viewing her students’ Valentine’s Day art honoring what they love most, among the tributes to parents, friends and pets was one for “Doctor PE.”

Family and community medicine resident Paiyuam Asnaashari ( Family and community medicine resident Paiyuam Asnaashari ("Doctor Pi" to the kids) leads first graders at Walnut Grove Elementary School in stretch, balance, coordination and teamwork activities.

That student was referring to a unique and popular program that brings UC Davis family and community medicine residents to her rural, south Sacramento County school twice each week to teach physical education. The goal is to encourage the students to do physical activity every day, which can help them do well in academics now and avoid serious conditions like diabetes and heart disease later.

A surprising outcome of the program is that the kids are more comfortable with health care overall.

“They tell me more often that they want to be doctors, dentists or veterinarians when they grow up, when they mostly used to just say they wanted to be soccer players or musicians,” Norris said. “They also are less afraid of getting their flu vaccines.”

The first PE sessions of the new school year were led by Paiyuam Asnaashari, a second-year resident who often encourages physical activity for his patients. Teaching PE to the children has been good for him, too.

“It’s touching to walk onto campus, see the smiles on their faces and have them give us hugs like we’ve been gone for a century,” said Asnaashari, whom the kids call “Doctor Pi.” “It’s rewarding to teach something they otherwise would not have and make an important change for them in just 35 minutes.”

Now in its second year, Doctor PE is part of the residency program’s commitment to training doctors in the “whole person” approach to care, a perspective that encompasses the health of patients together with the health of places where they live, work, learn and play. 

The department’s residents can also be found, for instance, providing health screenings to lower-income seniors, organizing walks in parks and teaching health classes in high schools, augmenting their patient-care experiences with meaningful community connections.

More information about family and community medicine at UC Davis, including the residency program, is on the department's website.

For more information about Walnut Grove Elementary School, visit the school's website.

Details on the many benefits of regular physical activity for youth is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.