Schweitzer Fellows Inspire and Serve Chicago's Medically Vulnerable

For 20 years, Baxter has supported novel programs linking young talent and public health programs
May 6, 2016 12:00 PM ET

Students often say they’ll start to help others when they graduate or when their financial status changes, remarks Loyola University Chicago medical student and 2015-16 Schweitzer Fellow Pablo da Silva. However, through a Schweitzer Fellowship, Pablo was able to start making a change in the community now. Pablo is just one of a series of Chicago-area Schweitzer Fellows given a chance to put their ideas to the test and see what it takes to empower vulnerable people to live healthier lives by discovering new opportunities to provide access and education in healthcare.

The Chicago-area Schweitzer Fellows program is celebrating its 20th anniversary and the impact that the program’s more than 520 fellows have had on the Chicago community. Schweitzer is dedicated to developing a pipeline of emerging professionals who enter the workforce with the skills and commitment to address unmet health needs. According to Schweitzer Fellows Program Director Ray Wang, the program helps to inspire people who want to advance public health in a meaningful and impactful way.

“Baxter and the Baxter International Foundation are our longest running supporters and have been instrumental to our program’s success.” Ray said, “Giving health professionals not just the opportunity to volunteer, but also to gain real world experience in leadership and project management skills is invaluable. These are skills they’ll take with them in the future as they continue to better the health of underserved communities.”

Originally from Brazil, Pablo moved to New Jersey when he was 13 and went to community college since he couldn’t afford to attend a regular university, later transferring to Kean University before attending the Loyola Stritch School of Medicine. He thought the Schweitzer Fellowship would be a perfect opportunity to enable community college students to learn more about going to medical school, and so he created a pipeline program for students interested in a healthcare career.

‘It’s very gratifying to give back now that I’ve come this far,” Pablo said. “I recognize I’ve had much help along the way and I feel it’s almost an obligation to do my best in helping others fulfill their objectives. And I’m hoping that impact extends to the community as these students enter a career in medicine.”

During his Fellowship, Pablo led a group of 10 students from Joliet Community College and Triton Community College on a tour of the medical lab at Loyola where they were able to interact with the equipment and see what campus life is like. He also led a panel with two other Fellows where students were able to ask about applications, the transfer process and other inquiries regarding a career in healthcare. Additionally, Pablo met with interested students individually to provide support through their transfer process.

Schweitzer Fellow Rachel Gottfredsen-Gage, a nursing student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, launched an interactive healthcare awareness program for at-risk youth in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in partnership with the YMCA for her community initiative with the fellowship. Building upon its Youth, Safety and Violence program, Rachel uses art as a process for healing and encouraging healthy behaviors.

“We’ve created a safe space that allows vulnerable youth to cultivate positive social connections,” Rachel said. “The program is completely run by the kids, with our support, and has allowed them to be more resilient and cope with traumatic or adverse childhood experiences.”

The program participants chose to create murals that told their story, allowing them to share their life experiences and the challenges they’ve had to overcome. They recently held a family-friendly art event where people from the community could view the murals – expecting around 50 attendees, they received more than 200. By inspiring healthy behaviors among Chicago’s youth, the healthcare awareness program sparks improved access to care and helps eliminates potential for illness down the line by holistically integrating the initiative into the youths’ daily lives.

“The program has fostered pride, hopefulness, confidence and creativity in each young person’s life,” Rachel said. “When we asked the participants the most meaningful aspect of the program, they said ‘the opportunity to tell their story.’”