Schweitzer Fellows Aid two Underrepresented and Underserved Populations in the Bay Area
Each year, the U.S. Albert Schweitzer Fellows (ASF) program competitively selects 250 students from health and human service schools to follow in Dr. Albert Schweitzer's footsteps. Schweitzer Fellows partner with community-based organizations to identify an unmet health need, design a yearlong service project with a demonstrable impact on that need, and bring that project from idea to implementation and impact -- in additional to their usual graduate school responsibilities.
Two students from different academic programs at Samuel Merritt University have demonstrated their personal commitment to positively transforming the experience of care in diverse communities. This commitment goes to the heart of the SMU mission.
Dresden Beier is a third year student in the Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) program at the California School of Podiatric Medicine, a school within Samuel Merritt University.
As an active runner, Beier understands the importance of staying healthy and active, and the meaning of healthy foot care. But with recent healthcare budget cuts that left hundreds of underserved people in the Bay Area with reduced access to podiatric services, Beier wanted to find a way to help.
"It is essential to patients, especially those who suffer from diabetes, to have routine foot care for problems ranging from ingrown toenails to ankle sprains and everything in between," explains Beier. "With the budget cuts, uninsured patients were no longer able to see a podiatrist, so I decided to start a free podiatry clinic in San Leandro."
Beier partnered with fellow SMU students in the Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) program working at the Davis Family Street Clinic in San Leandro to provide both podiatric care and preventive education.
The foot care clinic is open two Sundays a month and overlaps with another community service project lead by SMU alumna Nisha Thapa, FNP. Thapa works closely with Bhutanese refugees in the Bay Area and informed the community about the free foot clinic. With referrals from the family practice clinic as well as from Thapa, the podiatry clinic has served more than 60 patients since its start in October, 2010. Most of the patients are between the ages of 50 to 70.
"The most valuable experience has been working with other people, like Nisha, who volunteer their time to commit to serving an under-served population. It has been truly humbling to see the empathy for others," said Beier. "I have learned there is a large population of people who are in desperate need of podiatric services ranging from palliative care to foot infections, such as fungal and bacterial."
Beier says the most surprising experience he has encountered is the amount of support he has received. "Faculty members at Samuel Merritt University, alums, and companies that have donated to the school for these types of projects have been overwhelming. The patient and staff interactions that I have had during this project have been amazing, and I'm thankful to be a part of it."
"Being a Schweitzer Fellow allows me to be part of an organization devoted to service and enables me to be humbled by the many great things people do for each other out of sheer compassion. I feel very fortunate to be a Fellow in ‘an organization that is built around compassion and reverence for life’, as Albert Schweitzer put it."
Kenneth Russell is a SMU nursing student in the Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN) - Case Management program. He left his work with corporate companies such as NASA and Intel, to carve a more personal path in life.
"Nursing seemed the next logical step," said Russell. "Working with underserved populations keeps me grounded during my life and I know that I have truly made a lasting sustainable impact on a person, their life and community."
It is Russell’s work in the American-Indian community that caught the attention of ASF. The nonprofit group, Intertribal Friendship House (IFH), located in Oakland, was established in 1955 as one of the first urban American Indian community centers in the nation. According to its website, the organization was founded by the American Friends Service Committee to serve the needs of American Indian people relocated from reservations to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Russell works with IFH to inform the community about diabetes, hypertension, alcoholism, smoking cessation, and healthier living choices.
"I developed the idea after going through my first three semesters at SMU and learning that Native Americans had high risk factors for many of the top diseases contributing to death," said Russell. "The Center is in the beginning stages of enlarging their organic garden which has the potential to tie in to the healthy living concepts they are promoting among their community center population."
Russell adds the ASF recognition is one the greatest honors he has received during his academic career. "This Fellowship will give me the opportunity to not only impart knowledge for healthier living options to this population, but it will also allow me to get a better understanding about the ways of Native American from being immersed in their traditions and events."
Founded in the United States in 1940, The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) was created to support Dr. Schweitzer's medical work in Africa during World War II. Since Schweitzer's death in 1965, the Fellowship has continued to provide direct assistance to underserved communities within the U.S.
Past ASF from Samuel Merritt University include:
- Corina Derman, ELMNS FNP student, Class 12/2011
- Iris Lowenberg, ELMNS FNP student, Class 12/2011
- Kene Ofili, DPM student, Class 5/2011
- Analiza Mitchell, DPM, alum, Class 05/2010
- Bright Chen, DPM, alum, Class 05/2010
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