Albert Schweitzer Fellowship medical students serve Cooper Green patients and the community

Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program 2023-24 participants and second-year UAB medical students Josiah Perry and Paul Jones

Cooper Green patients have an opportunity that few U.S. health care facilities offer: the chance to interact with Albert Schweitzer Fellowship participants. The UAB Heersink School of Medicine is one of just 14 national chapters that has an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program, and two of the 2023-24 participants are second-year UAB medical students Josiah Perry and Paul Jones.

Fellows must commit to a yearlong service project, completing more than 200 hours of work in the community, while engaging in an academic mentorship program to help meet an unmet need among the local population. For Perry and Jones, that need is health literacy, efficacy, and advocacy for patients with COPD and heart failure at Cooper Green, which serves the most vulnerable in Jefferson County.

“We both have a background in education, working specifically with people in settings where they might not have had the assistance they needed early on,” Perry said. “That was the original inspiration for this project.”

Education for managing chronic conditions

As part of their project, Perry and Jones give patients who come into the resident-run clinic a Single-Item Literacy Screener, or SILS, to determine if they are considered baseline literate. From there, the students go into deeper detail with patients who have chronic health issues to gauge how confident they feel about managing their conditions on their own. They also encourage patients to attend a workshop about managing their conditions.

“One of the cool things about our project is that it we’re talking to patients one-on-one and doing the screenings with them, allowing us to be better positioned to appreciate their particular needs and concerns and understand the background they come from,” Jones said. “I think by understanding the specific needs of the patients, we’ll be better suited to hopefully convince them that we can make a difference for them.”

Schweitzer fellowships last just a year, but participants are challenged with creating a project that has sustainability and will continue after they move on with their education.

“We’re looking at a few angles for the continuity for the project,” Perry said. “One being that the project will collect useful data for Cooper Green regarding the baseline prevalence of overall literacy and self-efficacy among patients regarding chronic diseases.”

Another way to achieve sustainability is by looping in established organizations within UAB that have the faculty support to take the reins and inspire other medical students to participate. Such organizations could include Impact, which focuses on smoking and vaping cessation, or Dynamic Health, a group that uses motivational interviewing methods to help improve health through diet and exercise.

“I’m not incredibly worried that we won’t find a few medical students to keep this going, as long as we plan upfront who we want to loop in and have a longitudinal segue process for that,” Perry said.

Personal goals

And while sustainability is a goal of this project, Perry and Jones also hope to achieve some personal goals, like helping second-year medical students determine what type of doctor they wish to be one day, both professionally and personally.

For Perry, he wants to continue in some form of educational role in his future practice, or perhaps curricular development – focusing on people who have trouble connecting and understanding medical material.

For Jones, an Alabama native, his goal is to better understand the challenges and obstacles that his hometown community faces. He recognizes that it can be hard to have a clear sense of these obstacles without interacting with the people who face them.

“I’ve found that when I intentionally think about the type of person and doctor I want to be, the most informative experiences I’ve had are from the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had,” Jones said. “Very selfishly, this project allows me to do that – to have those experiences and conversations – while also appreciating the day-to-day challenges so many people in our community face. I don’t know exactly what I want to do after medical school, but I can’t imagine that this fellowship won’t help me decide what I want to be one day.”

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