Nine first-year Geisel students receive Schweitzer Fellowship

by Julian Nathan | 5/30/17 2:00am

Nine first-year Geisel School of Medicine students will be awarded the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Each year, approximately 250 first-year graduate students from across the country begin community service projects addressing chronic health conditions and the underlying causes of health inequities as fellows. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship provides fellowship recipients with a $2,000 stipend for each project.

This year’s recipients include Nasim Azizgolshani Med’20, Sarah Bennett ’16 Med’20, Frederick Burton III Med’20, Melissa Cantave ’16 Med’20, Louisa Chen Med’20, Chad Lewis Med’20, Lucas Mayer Med’20, Jacob Perlson Med’20 and Trenika Williams Med’20.

Mayer, who will be working with Lewis, said that their project aims to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields within the student body of Hartford High School in Hartford, Vermont. Lewis echoed this sentiment.

“Someday, I want the kids who go through our program to look back and have fond memories of a meaningful [science, technology, engineering and math] experience,” Lewis said.

As part of this program, high school students will complete STEM-related projects, including one experiment in which students will create remote-controlled cockroaches with electrodes, Lewis said. Mayer added that students will also hear from guest speakers and travel to STEM workplaces, such as an electrical engineering laboratory.

Mayer added that such a program could be useful for students at Hartford High School because while STEM opportunities and technology companies are common in Hanover and Lebanon, they are considerably rarer in the immediate areas surrounding the high school.

Perlson said that his project will focus on raising awareness of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. PrEP is a drug treatment regimen that dramatically reduces the risk of becoming infected with HIV, but not everybody who could benefit from the drug knows that it is available, he added.

Perlson said he will be partnering with community organizations in New Hampshire, places where people receive treatment and preventative care for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and the HIV program at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to raise awareness of the drug in populations that are disproportionately affected by HIV, such as the LGBTQ community.

He added that since gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV, he will raise awareness of PrEP using geolocation-based dating apps where gay and bisexual men meet partners.

Bennett said that when she heard of women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Pati Hernández’s “Telling My Story” program, which seeks to empower and build relationships between individuals through theatre, through the Beyond the Books program at Geisel, she and Cantave developed the idea to incorporate the program’s confidence-building elements into a project benefiting children.

She explained that as part of her project, she and Cantave will work with female juniors and seniors at Stevens High School in Claremont to build a sense of community and increase the girls’ confidence. Bennett added that it is important to maximize these traits because they have protective effects on mental health and can prevent substance abuse.

Bennett said that their project will also teach girls other skills, such as how to draft a résumé and write a personal statement.

Williams said she first learned of the Schweitzer Fellowship during her medical school search process, adding that Geisel students consistently winning the fellowship was a factor in her decision to attend.

As part of her project, she and Burton will collaborate with the Grafton County Senior Citizen Council’s “Meals on Wheels” program to deliver healthy foods to homebound seniors. She and Burton will also conduct health check-ins with the seniors to ensure that their medical needs are addressed.

Williams said that she hopes her project will make senior citizens feel more comfortable, more autonomous and less isolated.

She said that she was inspired to undertake this particular project because of her experiences as a home healthcare worker in Indiana. As a healthcare worker, she noticed that some of her clients were “forgotten” and went for weeks at a time without visitors, she said.

Williams said that upon her arrival to Hanover, she learned that homebound seniors in the Upper Valley faced similar problems.

“Once we knew that this was a problem here too, we wanted to do something about it,” she said.

Williams said that she expects that her experience as a Schweitzer Fellow next year will help her become a better doctor because it will afford her the opportunity to connect with an underserved population outside of a clinical setting.

“You treat people better when you get to know the people that you are treating,” she said.

Chen said that she and Azizgolshani will direct a harm reduction program based out of the Claremont Soup Kitchen. As part of this program, she and Azizgolshani will distribute clean needles, sharps containers and naloxone to intravenous drug users. Naloxone, commonly known Narcan, is a life-saving drug that can treat opioid overdoses in emergency situations, but high drug costs prevent some intravenous drug users from accessing the medication, she said. Chen added that nasal formulations of naloxone cost between $200 and $300 and that naloxone auto-injectors can cost as much as $6,000.

She explained that distributing clean needles and sharps containers to intravenous drug users can help prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Chen added that she and Azizgolshani will also educate intravenous drug users about how to treat other complications of intravenous drug use, such as abscesses.

Chen said she decided to take on this project because of her previous experience opening a needle exchange program in Orange County, California. She said that upon her arrival to Dartmouth, she learned the extent of the opioid crisis in the Upper Valley and was inspired to take action.

New Hampshire/Vermont Schweitzer Program Director Nancy Gabriel said that applicants for the fellowship were required to complete a written application that detailed key information about their projects. Project proposals were evaluated on the basis of practicality, alignment with a community-identified need and sustainability, she said.

Gabriel said that each year, the selection committee allocates five project spots to applicants from Geisel. This year, 27 Geisel students, one- third of Geisel’s first-year class, applied for the fellowship. The students proposed14 different projects consistent with the medical school’s “service-oriented” culture.

Geisel Schweitzer Fellowship coordinator and Geisel professor Timothy Lahey said faculty help students with their project proposals by assisting in identifying a “sweet spot,” balancing innovative project ideas and the likelihood that a project will be sustainable. He added that the fellowship will help Geisel students become better doctors because it will teach them how to perform effective service work and reinforce the idea that the ultimate purpose of medicine is to help others.