Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows use training to serve local communities


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A suitcase clinic for LGBTQI youth, communal infant wellness visits for low-income Chinese immigrants, diabetes education for Spanish-speaking Latino patients—what do these seemingly disparate health interventions have in common? They were all designed and implemented by UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s 2012-2013 class of Schweitzer Fellows.


The 2012-2013 class of Schweitzer Fellows

Founded in memory of physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program supports graduate students working to improve the health and wellbeing of local vulnerable populations. Partnering with community organizations, Fellows undergo a year of leadership training and mentorship, developing and implementing a 200-hour service project that will address an unmet health need in their target community.

The program’s mission builds on Schweitzer’s lifetime commitment to addressing health among vulnerable communities, says Dale Ogar, Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program director. As such, the program is dedicated to developing graduate students with the passion, commitment, and skills needed to address health disparities once they enter the workforce.

The Bay Area Fellows Program, one of 12 Schweitzer program sites across the United States, will honor its 2012-2013 graduating Fellows Friday, May 10. Of the 14 who will graduate, four are from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Joint Medical Program (JMP): Jessica Chow, Katharine Burmaster, Nick Orozco, and Kacy Jo Peek.

Oakland’s Blossoming Babies
Chow’s project is a linguistically-and culturally-appropriate program for new parents within Oakland’s low-income Chinese immigrant population. In typical pediatric clinic visits, there is very little time for doctors to address important child development information or address parents’ many questions, Chow says. With a team of pediatricians, a nurse, and a health educator at Asian Health Services, she developed the “Blossoming Babies” program as a way to provide communal, comprehensive infant wellness care. The program regularly convened seven to eight families for two-and-a-half hour group doctors visits, which combined traditional one-on-one checkups with culturally-attuned education sessions given in Cantonese.

Growing up in the Bay Area after her own parents emigrated from China, Chow says she saw the fellowship as an opportunity to give back to the community that had supported her and her family.

“These are families that are often socially isolated and are struggling with language and cultural barriers,” Chow says. “At the same time, they’re also so excited to be parents and be able to raise their children in this country and give them opportunities they never had before,” Chow says. “With this program they get to share experiences and build this community and you can see how empowering that is for them,” she adds.

Healthy living with diabetes in Brentwood
Peek, a second-year JMP student, also tackled cultural and language barriers through a project for Spanish-speaking Latino patients with diabetes in Brentwood, CA. Working with an RN at the John Muir Mobile Health Clinic, Peek provided education on how to live healthily with diabetes, including eating right, exercising, and preventing diabetic complications. She also helped connect patients with health care providers to ensure that they receive ongoing care.

“I am very interested in working in rural and small community health care, and the Schweitzer Fellowship has given me the unique opportunity to take what I have learned about community health in the Joint Medical Program and apply it to a real population,” Peek says. The enthusiasm that the participants show for health advocacy has been the most inspiring aspect of the project, Peek notes. “Their desire to help educate their friends, families, and community about diabetes has been the driving force behind making our program successful,” she says.


Katharine Burmaster and Nick Orozco work at the the LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic.

A safe space in the East Bay for queer youth
Partnering with the Pacific Center in Berkeley, Katharine Burmaster and Nick Orozco worked together to establish a LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) Suitcase Clinic that offers free basic primary care, health education, and resources in the East Bay for low-income and/or uninsured members of the LGBTQI community. The goal of the clinic is to provide a safe space for queer youth, who often face discrimination and other barriers to care, to access vital basic medical services from sensitive providers.

Orozco says he was inspired to work with LGBTQI and other underserved communities by his own experience growing up as a gay man within a religious, conservative, Latino family. “I often experienced fear and isolation, but was able to find acceptance and confidence from friends and mentors,” he says. “This program has definitely taught me how critical it is to provide a safe space for queer persons to receive sensitive care, as mistrust and fear of the health care system has resulted in avoidance and health disparities,” he adds.

Focus on service and social justice
In addition to the students above, the 2012-2013 Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows included students from UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry, the UCSF School of Nursing, UCSF Medical School, UCSF School of Dentistry, Stanford University School of Medicine, Samuel Merritt School of Nursing, and the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in California.

Though they hail from different institutions, with different degree focuses, and different backgrounds, all Fellows share a similar passion for improving social justice.

“Often times in school, it can become easy to lose touch with the reasons that inspired the pursuit of medicine in the first place,” Orozco says. “Being part of the Schweitzer Fellowship and meeting with other Fellows who are working to meet the needs to underserved communities has been a wonderful way to stay inspired and to be reminded about my passion to work with vulnerable and underserved communities.”

The 2012-2013 Schweitzer Fellows

Jessica ChowJessica Chow
UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program
In partnership with Asian Health Services, Chow developed and implemented a linguistically- and culturally-appropriate program for group “well-baby” doctor’s visits among Oakland’s low-income Chinese immigrant parents and their infants. As opposed to a typical 15-minute pediatric checkup, the well-baby group visits allow seven to eight families to receive longer sessions, including half an hour to an hour of infant health education. “These are mostly new immigrants from different Asian countries,” Chow says. “They are linguistically isolated and many are uninsured, but through this program you see them building a community of other parents and families that they didn’t have before.”


Katharine BurmasterNick OrozcoKatharine Burmaster and Nick Orozco
UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program
Burmaster and Orozco partnered with the Pacific Center to establish an LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic that offers free basic primary care services, health education, and resources for low-income and/or uninsured members of the East Bay LGBTQI community. The aim of the clinic is to offer a safe space for LGBTQI individuals to access basic medical services and be connected with long-term care through the care of sensitive providers. Orozco and Burmaster say that the marginalization and health disparities’ experienced by the LGBTQI community have motivated them to work towards addressing these inequities with their clinic.


Kacy Jo PeekKacy Jo Peek
UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program
Peek designed and implemented an educational program for Spanish-speaking Latino patients with Type II diabetes at the John Muir Mobile Health Clinic in Brentwood, CA. Working with an RN, Peek educated participants about self-care and helping uninsured patients locate primary care physicians for long term health care maintenance and monitoring. Peek is interested in rural and small community healthcare and says this fellowship has given her the opportunity to put her education into context. She plans to continue work with the Mobile Health clinic once her fellowship ends.


Laura LeisLaura Leis
UC Berkeley School of Optometry
Leis established a vision-screening program for underserved middle and high school students in Oakland,. In partnership with the American Indian Public Charter School, her project will identify vision problems, connect students with appropriate care, and teach basic eye health.


Jonathan Van NuysJonathan Van Nuys
UCSF School of Nursing
Van Nuys created, developed and implemented a 7-week series of support groups, art therapy, and other activities for long-term AIDS survivors. Working with the Stop AIDS Project, Van Nuys identified a gap in services among older AIDS patients. “A lot of people diagnosed in the 1980s lost most of their peer group, but there hasn’t been a space for people to talk about why they lived through. They want a way to re-engage in life,” says Van Nuys. Diagnosed with HIV in 2004, Van Nuys says he entered nursing because he wanted to use his own life experiences to benefit others. “It’s been such a rich experience to provide this vehicle for discussion and watch this community forming,” he adds.


Kate Hirschmann-LevyRobert PittsKate Hirschmann-Levy and Robert Pitts
UCSF School of Medicine
Working within the San Francisco Women’s Jail, Hirschmann-Levy and Pitts founded the Women’s Jail Health Project, a student-run organization that seeks to better educate female inmates about their reproductive health and help them receive health insurance and find health services once released from jail. Female inmates are more likely to practice high-risk sexual behaviors and are at high risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. “Empowering [this population]with knowledge, making access to care easier, less threatening and more welcoming, crucial first steps that will greatly help circumvent adverse health outcomes amongst this community,” says Hirschmann-Levy. “I have always been very interested in serving low-income populations who are often neglected by society and most burdened by disease and illness,” says Pitts. “This was my opportunity to give back by helping female inmates learn more about their bodies in a safe environment,” he adds. Hirschmann-Levy and Pitts have trained three student leaders to take over the project when they leave for their residencies in New York City.


Malay MathurTodor StavrevMalay Mathur and Todor Stavrev
University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry
Mathur and Stavrev developed and implemented a prevention, education, and screening program for the oral manifestations of HIV/AIDS, STIs, and oral cancer in underserved San Francisco youth who are LGBT, homeless, and/or low-income. Working through 360: The Positive Care center at UCSF, their program provided oral exams, fluoride application, xylitol gum, referral to dental clinics, and motivational workshops to address substance abuse. “This project has solidified my interest in helping underserved populations,” says Stavrev. “As a dentist, I want to devote some of my time to public oral health,” he adds. Similarly, Mathur says that the project has allowed him to channel his passion for public service. “It’s been nothing short of a miracle to see this project’s development, execution, and end,” he says.


Hillary LinHillary Lin
Stanford University School of Medicine
Lin developed and implemented a patient follow-through program that helps patients at the Pacific Free Clinic keep track of upcoming appointments, prescriptions, tests, and important information about their diagnoses. The clinic serves uninsured patients, many of whom are immigrants without access to other medical services. “The experience helped me realize that everyday burdens at a free clinic (and anywhere) can result in a slowing of progress,” Lin says. Her program has helped streamline operations by increasing patient understanding and reducing redundant clinic visits.


Miriam BarrereFrancisco Virgen-GironMiriam Barrere and Francisco Virgen-Giron
Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing
Barrere and Virgen-Giron developed and implemented culturally-appropriate, Spanish-language wellness classes for school-age children and their parents at Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center in Hayward. “One of the most detrimental health issues currently affecting Hispanic [communities]is the high rate of obesity [and]it is highly important that health weight management begins early in childhood development,” says Virgen-Giron. Virgen-Giron and Barrere’s classes focused on increasing healthy behaviors among Hispanic families through education on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. “I was interested in the Schweitzer Fellowship because I saw it as a way to share the nursing knowledge I have gained from school with others—it is the teaching role of nursing that is my favorite part of the job,” Barrere says. Moving forward, the center will continue their classes using their curriculum at the current location and at the Silva Pediatric Clinic.


Soaman DizechiSoaman Dizechi
Touro University, California School of Public Health/School of Osteopathic Medicine
Dizechi designed and implemented a program that provided nutrition, fitness, and other information to low income Hispanic/Latino families who are part of the Napa Valley Soccer League. Leveraging existing gatherings at the Morton Field when kids would have soccer or rugby games, Dizechi’s program held health education classes and brought in community organizations who could connect parents with health services in Solano County. “It’s really fun to plan these interventions, but it has also been a very good learning experience to tackle the challenges of putting it into action,” Dizechi says. Dizechi will continue to work on the program following the fellowship, ideally integrating it with the local school.


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