Students plan to challenge health-care inequities
MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Students from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing were recently selected for prestigious Schweitzer Fellowships. Michelle Leahy, Ray Mendez and Melody Cibock were awarded the fellowships to design and implement innovative, yearlong projects to help vulnerable Chicago communities improve their health and well-being.
Named in honor of famed humanitarian and Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer, MD, the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program encourages service-minded students to “make their lives their argument,” by addressing the serious health challenges facing underserved populations. Stritch and Niehoff have a rich history of collaborating with the Schweitzer Fellows Program to bring better health care to surrounding communities.
In collaboration with existing community organizations, schools or clinics, each Schweitzer fellow provides 200 hours of direct service. Stritch student Michelle Leahy plans to introduce a diabetes prevention program in the Humboldt Park neighborhood that will focus on empowering families with tools for behavior change and healthy living.
“Being able to make healthy choices for oneself is not a privilege, it is a right that everyone should enjoy,” Leahy said. “Our job, as Schweitzer fellows and advocates of social justice, is to make this ideology a reality.”"
Stritch student Ray Mendez will expand the university’s current educational efforts to encourage underrepresented youth to pursue health careers. Latinos and African-Americans currently make up 28 percent of the U.S. population, but only 9 percent of physicians and 7 percent of registered nurses.
“Studies have shown data linking the lack of health-care professionals from underrepresented backgrounds to the presence of health-care disparities in those same populations,” Mendez said.
Niehoff student Melody Cibock plans to empower people with and without developmental disabilities in the L’Arche International community to take a more active role in their health-care decisions and general well-being.
“Everyone deserves the same opportunities for health and well-being,” Cibock said. Once established, she hopes to make her project sustainable beyond the fellowship year. “I anticipate that there might be challenges, so I know it will take dedication, hard work and love."
In addition to the community service projects, other aspects of the Schweitzer Fellows Program will help strengthen the students’ skills and provide them with ongoing opportunities for discussion and collaboration with colleagues from a wide variety of allied health professions. “I chose to apply for the Schweitzer Fellowship because I knew that working in a passionate, multidisciplinary team would improve my project's effectiveness,” Mendez said.
Competition for the coveted service-learning program was especially intense this year: a record number of 142 students applied and 31 fellows were selected. Since the program began in 1996, 435 fellows have contributed more than 87,000 hours of service expanding the capacities of 170 Chicago community organizations.
“Our Schweitzer fellows’ sense of altruism and dedication to service is not only remarkable, but it is clearly sustainable,” said Quentin Young, MD, the program’s founder and chairman. “The long-term vision for the Schweitzer Fellows Program is to cultivate lifelong leaders in service, and we are aware that a decisive majority of Schweitzer alumni remain engaged with helping poorly resourced communities well beyond their fellowship year."
The Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program is a partnership between The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship™, headquartered in Boston, and the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, a Chicago nonprofit that focuses on health-care access for the working poor and uninsured. More information can be found on the Schweitzer website, www.schweitzerfellowship.org and the Health & Medicine website, www.hmprg.org.