After college, Harvard University medical student Anand Habib worked as a global health fellow at a community clinic in rural Haiti. Working with another recent college graduate, Habib supported the staff of the clinic by managing several small-scale community public health projects that complemented the care provided at the clinic itself.
That experience spurred an interest in the Haitian diaspora as well as service to others that’s stayed with him today. In his first week of medical school, Habib met Dr. Marie-Louise Jean-Baptiste, an internist at the Windsor Street Care Center in Cambridge who trained as a physician in Haiti and has been a vital voice for health promotion in the Haitian community in the Cambridge area. While working with Dr. Jean-Baptiste in a clinical capacity as both as a first and third year medical student, Habib met several of her patients, the majority of whom are Haitian, and he began to grasp the extent to which many of them struggled to manage chronic illnesses.
As a Fellow in the Boston chapter of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Habib has implemented a program to help older Haitian patients of the Windsor clinic who are living with high blood pressure more effectively manage their condition.
“Although much of Dr. Jean-Baptiste’s work thus far has focused on improving management of type 2 diabetes,” said Habib, “we both saw that many chronic diseases ‘travel together.’ My project aims to complement the work that the Windsor Street clinic is already doing around chronic disease management.”
Habib has introduced a hypertension health education component to the center’s ongoing chronic disease self-management classes. He is also working with clinic staff to organize cooking classes that will enable participants to translate class discussions into action.
His project will culminate in an educational video that features program participants discussing their experiences with hypertension and other chronic illness and how they’ve learned to cope with and manage their conditions.
“We hope that they realize how far they’ve come and how much their own understanding and mindset may have changed in regard to managing their health and illnesses,” Habib said of the video. “And hopefully, sharing these messages with others will inspire more people to take control of their health.”
Habib recognizes that getting people to swap unhealthy behaviors practiced over the course of a lifetime for more healthy lifestyle choices often requires much time and a lot of support. He loves the challenge and enjoys being a cheerleader.
For example, one feature of Habib’s project is a “passport to health” for each participant, which tracks changes in weight, blood pressure, and fingerstick blood glucose over time. Many times participants forget to bring it to each class, “but when they do, it feels like a small victory,” he said.
He revels in these small measures of progress, especially during individual chats with group participants in which they review together how the measures have changed from month to month. Participants will often share updates on new exercises and activities they’re utilizing to improve their health.
“It’s gratifying to see their excitement and to be able to offer them positive reinforcement that every little thing they do helps,” Habib said.
“My hope is that, working alongside Windsor clinic’s staff and by educating patients about their illnesses, we can together walk along the road toward better health,” he added. “I offer as much motivation and encouragement to patients as possible and try to facilitate conversations among participants so they can learn from each other. They’re the experts; I’m simply the kindling that sparks change.”
Habib said that he expects his Fellowship experience—including become a Fellow for Life—will serve as a constant reminder that the most meaningful and important things in life are often the least glamorous.
“Being at Harvard, it’s easy to get swept up in the external measures of success and accolades that seem to garner attention and approbation,” he said. My mom would often tell my sister and me that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected. To me, being a Schweitzer Fellow means making an intentional commitment to be a community servant.”