Each year since 1979, The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship® has selected four third-year medical students to spend three months working as Fellows at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon on clinical rotations. Medical Fellows work as junior physicians in pediatrics or medicine rotations, supervised by hospital medical staff. Beginning in 2007, The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship began sending up to two Public Health Fellows each year, students or recent graduates with significant public health training and/or experience, to work with the Hospital’s Community Health Outreach Program, which provides village-based health care, including maternal/child health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, TB education and follow-up, and malaria prevention and treatment.
Many Fellows have found their three months to be among the most valuable of their professional training, and several have reported that their lives and career plans have been changed in major ways by their experiences in Lambaréné. Upon returning, Fellows join a network of more than 2,000 Lambaréné and U.S. Schweitzer Fellows – the Fellows for Life network – who are dedicated to maintaining service in their personal and professional lives.
In their words:
“The most important thing I learned at Lambaréné was how to be a doctor. Just as I envied those Fellows who had gone before me, I now envy those who will follow. I imagine they will witness the evolution of the Albert Schweitzer hospital as it strives to live up to the ideals of its founder in the face of ever increasing needs for diagnostic and therapeutic advances and basic human empathy.”
– Jennifer Vines, Brown University Medical School
“My experience in Lambaréné impacted my life tremendously. In addition to obtaining a great training in tropical medicine, I became a member of the Schweitzer family in Lambaréné. More importantly, through my work with the PMI team, I saw the direct impact that trained medical people can have on communities in need. I hope to return to my native country, Haiti, after my residency training and help to implement some of the programs that worked so well at Schweitzer Hospital.”
– Rose-Laure Moussignac, Boston University Medical School
“Those three months were some of the most catalytic in my academic and personal career. Through them I learned that primary-care/public health was my destiny and decided then, as a fourth-year student, that I would pursue family medicine rather than emergency medicine. After returning from Gabon to face my senior year, I began to realize in each day various lessons from Lambaréné and the ideals that Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” inspired in me. I consider my duty as a Schweitzer Fellow a great responsibility and would like to continue to honor that in my life’s work.”
– Benjamin Gilmer, ECU Brody School of Medicine
“Every patient was a new story unfolding before me, and their cultural backgrounds made up a great deal of that story. The lesson in these experiences is the acknowledgment of the great importance that culture plays in putting medicine into practice.”
– Alison Portnoy, Yale Medical School
“It wasn’t until Lambaréné, that I discovered what it meant for me to be a doctor, unshielded from the protective layers that our society imposes on medical practice. I got to know my patients and their families and their stories; I shared happiness and sadness with them, and for a few months I felt that I became part of the community. Since then, I have returned to Lambaréné time and time again; during one of my stays at the Albert Schweitzer hospital, helping to manage a measles outbreak, I discovered a deep-seated interest in public health which led me to pursue a career as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.”
– Ezra Barzilay, Tufts University School of Medicine
“It was a great honor and privilege for me to have been one of the first foursome of Fellows, along with classmates Sam Stanley, Mark Kerouac, and Lynn McKinley, sent to “le Schweitzer” in 1979. The four months I spent in Lambaréné provided me with the unique opportunity to see Dr. Schweitzer’s “Reverence For Life” in action; I keep a bust of Dr. Schweitzer in my office to this day. The experience taught me a lot about doing more with less, gave me a more realistic and appropriate sense of my own limitations as a doctor, and left me with many moving and indelible memories of the patients I saw and their families.”
– Carolyn Douglas, Harvard Medical School