The genius of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian-physician for whom The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is named, is not just that he had written three books by the time he was 29. Or that he had contributed landmark scholarly contributions in the fields of music, religion, and philosophy before age 30. The genius of Dr. Schweitzer is that when he decided to pursue medicine as his life’s mission, he didn’t stop at becoming a doctor—he built a hospital. Today, 49 years after his death at age 90, the Schweitzer Hospital in Gabon continues to serve as the primary source of health care for area residents.
The principle of creating something that will last informs the work of many of Schweitzer Fellows and Fellows for Life. This week, the Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire, highlighted the work of Schweitzer Fellows Christine Breuer and Erik Andrews, who are running a free health clinic at the Claremont Soup Kitchen in Claremont, NH:
“The clinic aims to help people who are under- and uninsured catch medical problems early and avoid costly emergency room visits. Every other Monday, students from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth offer health screenings during dinner hours, 4-6 p.m. The screenings include blood glucose and blood pressure checks and a questionnaire that asks about other preventative measures, such as vaccines, pap smears and mammograms.”
Claremont Soup Kitchen Director Jan Bunnell describes the health clinic as an answer to her “prayers,” as those who come to the Claremont Soup Kitchen for nourishment are in desperate need of medical services.
The clinic was started a year ago by Schweitzer Fellows for Life and Geisel School of Medicine students Samantha Batman and Mazin Abdelghany. As Batman and Abdelghany explained in a Beyond Boulders Blog Post two years ago, they started their project with the intention that it would outlast them: “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,” said Batman.
A truly sustainable project is one that will continue to have an impact even without the active involvement of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. While the health clinic at the Claremont Soup Kitchen still relies on medical students to staff it (Batman and Abdelghany still volunteer and Breuer and Andrews actively recruit other medical students to staff the clinic), there is wider community involvement as well. Supplies for the clinic were donated by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, where both Schweitzer Fellows are students. The Fellows work under the supervision of Bill Boyle, MD, the faculty head of the Geisel Community Service Committee. Follow-up care is being provided by Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, regardless of whether the patient has insurance. And the clinic is modeled after the Good Neighbor Health Clinic in White River Junction, Vermont, which provides ongoing advice on case management.
All of the projects undertaken by Fellows are both valued—and provide value. But those with the potential to be sustainable can attract additional support. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in North Carolina, for example, has a “Sustainability Initiative” designed to help Fellowship Projects extend beyond the initial Fellowship year in order to continue serving under-resourced community members.
In 2009, Schweitzer Fellows Sarah Mian and Reema Padia of the North Carolina program launched ALMAS, a comprehensive mentoring and tutoring program aimed at improving the health and lives of Greenville’s Spanish-speaking women and their families. One of their goals, according to a news account of the project, was to ensure that ALMAS was sustained beyond the end of their Fellowship year. Through the support of members of the East Carolina University Spanish Club, ALMAS has grown and thrived continuing to help improve the lives of Spanish-speaking women.
But now the program is able to focus on the women’s children, too. This year, Schweitzer Fellows Amber Heckart and Nyira “Lucy” Muhirwa, have expanded upon the program with a youth literacy initiative. In addition to having the children read and complete a new book each week, the Fellows encourage the children’s mothers in the program to read with their children at home twice weekly.
“Our goal is to foster collaboration between the leading professional schools in North Carolina and community-based organizations to design projects that will have an enduring impact on unmet health needs,” says Barbara Heffner, Program Director of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Pritesh Gandhi, Chair of the Advisory Board of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in New Orleans, a Fellow for Life (Boston, 2007-08), and an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics resident at Tulane University explains that one of the goals of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in New Orleans is to encourage Fellows to find ways to sustain their projects so they can continue to impact community members beyond the fellowship year. Toward that end, past Fellows have created screening programs for hepatitis in far flung areas of New Orleans such as New Orleans East where the programs are filling a gap by serving the area’s large population of Vietnamese immigrants.
“In a city like New Orleans where there has been almost unreasonable amount of struggle by our community, the Fellows fill a real gap between the day-to-day lives of our urban disenfranchised and the massive healthcare apparatus,” Gandhi says. “These projects have the potential to meet real needs over the long term to truly make a difference.”