Schweitzer 275x275Nobel Peace Prize laureate and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer inspired the founding of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. In 2015, as part of an effort to expand service learning opportunities for medical students, the School of Medicine partnered with the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) to open the 13th U.S.-based chapter of the prestigious service program. The fellowship is open to applicants from an array of health-focused graduate programs, including medicine, nursing, dentistry, and public health. The ASF named the second class of Alabama fellows in April, and it includes four UAB medical students.

The ASF was founded in the U.S. in 1940 to provide aid to the hospital that Nobel Peace Prize laureate and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer founded in Gabon, Africa. In 1979, the fellowship started sending medical students to work at the hospital. Today, it is dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable populations both at home and abroad.

Schweitzer Fellows spend a year developing and implementing service projects that address the causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities. Each project is implemented in collaboration with a community-based health and/or social service organization. UAB medical students chosen for the 2017/2018 fellowship program include:

Caroline Fuller, a rising MS2, is addressing childhood nutrition and exercise in the East Lake community by establishing a nutrition curriculum during P.E.E.R. Inc.’s summer camp at East Lake United Methodist Church. This program is intended to help children from second grade to high school learn how to exercise safely and eat healthy even with limited access to food and equipment. The curriculum, titled “Student Bodyworks: A Mobile Kitchen to Integrate Nutrition Science (and Math) Into Elementary School Classrooms,” will give these students the tools to take care of their bodies and minds.

Ashleigh Burns Irwin, a rising MS2, is working to improve health literacy in children through the creation and implementation of a healthy lifestyle curriculum for the YMCA of Greater Birmingham Youth Center’s after-school program. This curriculum, targeted to students from kindergarten through second grade, addresses themes like nutrition and physical activity. It also confronts diseases and behaviors prevalent in the community, including diabetes, hypertension, smoking, and alcohol use. The goal is to increase students’ knowledge about the many factors that contribute to health and increase the likelihood they will make good choices regarding their own health and lifestyles.029SOM SchweitzerFellows2017Left to right: Koushik Kasanagottu, Caroline Fuller, Ashleigh Burns Irwin, and Carson Klein.

Koushik Kasanagottu, a rising MS4, is focusing on the lack of access to quality nutrition information for disadvantaged groups by developing a lifestyle checklist that contains evidence-based guidelines to prevent or manage chronic diseases. The checklist will contain simple but effective methods to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and participants will be asked to select two to three goals they wish to accomplish. The program aims to motivate individuals to make permanent lifestyle changes that are healthy and habitual. His community partner site is University Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

Carson Klein, a rising MS2, is addressing the effects of social isolation on the elderly in Birmingham. She is developing a volunteer program that pairs medical students with socially isolated vulnerable elders currently enrolled in the UAB House Calls Program. The program aims to reduce the impact of social isolation on the mental and physical health of these vulnerable seniors through various activities and games. It also provides a rich service learning opportunity for the student volunteers.

“This is a talented and hardworking group of students who are passionate about improving health care and access to care,” says Kristin Boggs, director of the Alabama chapter of the ASF. “They’ve partnered with an impressive range of community-based groups that are working to help vulnerable people live healthier lives, and it will be very exciting to see how their projects progress over the next year.”

By Jane Longshore