Thanksgiving is right around the corner—and helping to prepare and serve meals at local soup kitchens has become a popular way to give back on Turkey Day and throughout the holiday season.
In partnership with Schweitzer Fellows Samantha Batman and Mazin Abdelghany, one particular soup kitchen in New Hampshire is addressing unmet medical needs as well as hunger.
Working closely with Claremont Soup Kitchen executive director Jan Bunnell, Batman and Abdelghany—both students at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth (GSM)—are providing health education and screenings to low-income individuals and families at community dinners throughout the year.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
MA: We first became interested in applying to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship through a committee meeting regarding an annual fundraiser that GSM students organize. Traditionally, the proceeds from this fundraiser go to an international organization—but I was pushing to steer the money towards the struggling communities in and around Dartmouth.
The committee mentioned the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program as an excellent outlet to serve underserved community members. After calling several local organizations, we were lucky enough to speak with Jan Bunnell of the Claremont Soup Kitchen. She was enthusiastic to mentor us while we tried to develop a program to screen an underserved population of individuals without access to regular health care.
SB: As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I enrolled in a course about international nutrition. Through this class, I volunteered at a local soup kitchen to learn firsthand what food insecurity looked like in the U.S. so that I could make comparisons to food insecurity abroad. At the dinners, I saw medical and law students working together to deliver resources and services that benefited the health of their community.
Years later, when it came time to create our Schweitzer project, Mazin and I wanted to find a way to reach those who had the greatest need of—and the least access to—affordable health care. The Claremont Soup Kitchen was the perfect venue. Jan Bunnell, the executive director, spoke to us about the lack of accessible care in the area, and we felt as though we could make a difference by implementing screening programs and health care workshops. We are working to develop a meaningful and rewarding relationship with the Claremont Soup Kitchen and its patrons over the coming year.
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
SB: In the future, first- and second-year medical students will be able to sign up for a shift at the Claremont Soup Kitchen with the hope that they will work in tandem with physicians and fourth-year medical students to deliver care to those without it. We anticipate that future funding will come from donations from the community and fundraising events held by GSM students. We hope our project will continue into the future and serve individuals and families in a community where there are few health ca re options.
MA: While developing our project, we felt it was important to create something sustainable. Given the interest expressed by our class for an avenue both to practice their clinical skills and to interact with the community, we saw the potential for present and future GSM classes to get involved in our program. Many of our fellow classmates are excited by the idea and ready to volunteer their time.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
SB & MA: We believe that the most pressing—and indeed the most difficult—health-related issue of our time is the lack of access to health care for underserved and uninsured people in the U.S. Without access to care, it is very difficult for these patients to receive the preventive health screenings that are necessary to help them avoid more serious health problems in the future— which are also the most costly problems for health care providers to treat.
Moreover, with the cost of training physicians rising and the availability of affordable student loans falling, medical school graduates are choosing higher income-potential specialties in order to pay for their education. This has caused a shortage of primary care physicians that will further exacerbate issues of health care access for an aging population.
These issues must be addressed via many different avenues. Providing insurance—and therefore access to care—to those in the U.S. population who are uninsured or underinsured is fundamental. These people will then have access to the necessary preventative care that will help them circumvent serious illnesses, and will help the healthcare system sidestep the associated costly treatments. Also, specializing in primary care should be made more affordable, and something must be done to curtail the rising cost of medical education.
We are hopeful that this question will continue to be addressed by many intelligent and capable people in our government, and that we will be able to implement a health care program that will address the glaring lack of healthcare for underserved people in our country.
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
MA: The Schweitzer Fellows that I have met over the past six months have inspired and awed me. They are an extraordinary group of people, they are committed to a lifelong career of serving the underserved, and they have accomplished—and will accomplish—so much. Their many ideas and their own Schweitzer projects have reinforced my belief that with teamwork and cooperation, a small group of dedicated individuals can provide support and service to many.
SM: So far, the most surprising part of this Fellowship has been my experience with the other New Hampshire-Vermont Fellows. At our retreats, we had the chance to share our stories, ideals, and projects and I am amazed by the strength, courage, and kindness that this year’s Fellows have shown. Meeting with other students that have similar interests has been very inspiring, and I find that these gatherings leave me optimistic for the future of health care in our country.
ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?
MA: The Schweitzer Fellowship is more than just a year-long service project. I hope that it will be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the Schweitzer program, an unending commitment to serving the underserved, and an opportunity to network with the remarkable people chosen to continue Dr. Schweitzer’s legacy.
Throughout my career, I will strive to do my best in order to meet the needs of my community, and I hope that the Schweitzer program will be a lifelong partner in this endeavor.
SB: I strongly believe that an important part of being a physician is being active in the community beyond the clinic. The Schweitzer Fellowship is the start of my career as a physician who is integrated into her community. It reflects a lifelong commitment that I am making to serving those in need.
Furthermore, the network of Fellows for Life will continue to inspire me the way this year’s New Hampshire-Vermont Fellows have. Being part of a group of like-minded, service-oriented individuals will serve as a constant reminder of the amazing things we can accomplish when we decide to act on our ideals.
Click here to learn more about the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants. Click here to make a donation.