June 2, 2015

Fellowship focusing on healthcare in Chicago awarded to four graduate students

Four graduate students at the University of Chicago will join the ranks of other exceptional health professions students awarded the prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship for projects to improve the health and wellbeing of underserved Chicago communities. Pritzker School of Medicine students Phillip Hsu, Amol Naik, and Katherine Palmer and Social Service Administration (SSA) student Tessa Garcia McEwen are among 30 fellows selected from nearly 100 applicants who will implement yearlong projects aimed at overcoming serious barriers to health care in Chicago.

“The program draws students who aren’t satisfied with the status quo and want to do something about it,” said Ray Wang, director of the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program. “They’re excited by the idea of getting out of the classroom for a while and helping people by meeting them where they are at, translating what they’ve learned at a technical level to something practical and meaningful that community members can understand and apply in their everyday lives.”

The Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program encourages students to “make their lives their argument” by providing direct service to Chicago residents. It is one of 11 Schweitzer Fellows Programs nationwide, administered by the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group.

Hsu, a first-year medical student, plans to establish a free health clinic and offer health education classes in Bridgeport, a community that is home to a large and rapidly growing population of underserved Asian immigrants.

“As a second-generation Taiwanese American, I am concerned about the challenges faced by many Asian immigrants, especially the challenge of attaining proper healthcare, which is made difficult due to limited English capacity or lack of insurance,” Hsu said. “I have become particularly invested in using my position as a medical student to work with underprivileged Asian-American populations with limited access to health care, a challenge that hinders both the possibility of employment and overall quality of life.”

McEwen is a second-year Extended Evening Program SSA student as well as a resident head for 75 undergraduates in Booth House in the College. She aims to implement a comprehensive perinatal loss support program for grieving parents on the South Side. Furthermore, she will conduct a train-the-trainer module for medical providers and health-care professionals in the fields of compassionate care and cultural competency.

McEwen discussed the need for increased support for those who, like her, have suffered the non-voluntary end of pregnancy.

“As a bereaved mother who experienced perinatal loss without adequate emotional and material support, I aim to walk with fellow grieving parents and help provide a space for support and access to resources that I never had,” McEwen said. “I also aim to help medical professionals and hospital staff acquire a deeper sense of compassion and educational awareness for perinatal loss at all stages of pregnancy.”

The remaining two Schweitzer Fellowship recipients will tackle other health challenges faced by Chicagoans. Naik’s proposal focuses on the creation of a weekly health discussion group at the Interfaith House, an interim housing facility for homeless adults.

“Through the discussion group, I hope to help residents learn about health issues of interest to them, such as diabetes, infectious disease, exercise, nutrition,” said Naik, also a first-year medical student. “By providing me with insight into the health-related challenges faced by homeless adults, this experience will allow me to be a more empathetic and effective physician for this population in the future.”

Lastly, Palmer’s plan features the development of a health and wellness curriculum in the UChicago Woodlawn Charter School led by college and graduate student mentors.

Though their project goals are diverse, the fellows share a commitment to service and sustainable health improvements in the communities that most need them.

“In helping the underserved community, we as helpers are not swooping in as the ‘experts’ or the ones that will ‘fix’ and ‘save’ the community,” McEwen noted. “Our goal is to walk alongside, learn from the people as experts of their own communities, and use our talents to provide support in ways that can enrich their overall well-being.”