Schweitzer Fellows improve health care, quality of life
When Jiwon Lim decided to study dental medicine, part of her decision hinged on her desire to help others and change lives. After her experience as a 2018-19 Albert Schweitzer Fellow, she’s even more motivated to place her unique imprint on the world through dentistry.
“It’s further solidified my desire to serve the people in my community in my own unique way,” said Lim, a student in East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine (SoDM). “I love and respect dentistry because I’m able to bring someone to better health through a combination of my knowledge and hand skills.”
The 2018-19 Schweitzer Fellows on ECU’s Health Sciences campus completed projects that will lend experiences and new knowledge to future careers in health care. The NC Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program helps prepare a new generation of professional and build healthier communities.
“Now more than ever, we need passionate and dedicated leaders to meet the needs of vulnerable communities,” said Barbara Heffner, director of the NC Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. “As these Fellows transition to Fellows for Life, they have developed the skills, commitment and true confidence in knowing they can make a difference in the lives of those they serve.”
Lim worked with Brody School of Medicine student Niki Winters to expand an interprofessional free medical-dental clinic for homeless and uninsured patients, who were screened at local free clinics for dental emergencies and referred to the ECU SoDM Emergency Clinic. Patients were also referred to the James D. Bernstein Community Clinic for continued medical and dental needs.
“We provided more than $10,000 worth of dental care, medical care, prescription drugs and supplies to the community over the year,” Winters said. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to help each and every individual that we encountered throughout the year.”
Lim and Winters – who completed their project as J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellows/Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation Fellows – said that being part of an interprofessional team helped them gain perspective of how providers in different fields contribute to a patient’s overall health. Their project aimed to close gaps between dental and medical care that many patients experience.
“People were coming to the doctors’ office or emergency department complaining about dental pain and not knowing where to go,” Winters said. “We hope that we were able to bridge some of those gaps by establishing referral systems between local medical clinics and the ECU School of Dental Medicine Emergency Dental Clinic. Moving forward in my career, I want to hold on to an interprofessional mind set and cherish the big team it takes to care of a person.”
That team discovered that some patients had underlying medical conditions that might not have been addressed if the patients had not presented with dental pain or problems.
“We found that most of our patients who did present with dental emergencies also had other medical conditions that were either being neglected or not being managed,” Lim said. “Working with a medical student who could speak to the patient about these conditions, as well as a social worker that had knowledge of resources where these patients could get help, was really incredible.”
Winters and Lim said they feel confident that they made a difference in the overall health of patients who sought treatment, and that their project helped shape them as future dentists and doctors.
“I want to be the kind of health-care professional that my community can lean on,” Lim said.
Other 2018-19 Schweitzer Fellows projects aimed to improve health and quality of life for people in eastern North Carolina.
Graduate student Gabriel Beattie-Sergio earned ECU’s first-ever Schweitzer Fellowship in public health as a 2018-19 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow and BCBS Foundation Schweitzer Fellow. He created a project aimed at determining and eliminating factors that contribute to childhood asthma.
Beattie-Sergio’s work focused on families who were impacted by Hurricane Matthew, live in substandard housing and have children with asthma. He conducted in-home visits, interviewed families and conducted environmental health and housing assessments.
“We found that families who have children with asthma living in homes that were damaged by hurricane Matthew and Florence had at least one indefinable asthma trigger, like mold or cockroaches,” Beattie-Sergio said. “We also found that these families had nonmedical needs that were not being met. I hope that this research shows the importance of understanding a family’s social determinants of health when a primary care physician is determining their care plan.”
The research hits particularly close to home for Beattie-Sergio, who is pursuing both a master of public health in epidemiology and a master of science in environmental health. He suffered from childhood asthma and hopes his work will help address the illness in eastern North Carolina, which has the state’s highest rates of childhood asthma.
Through the project, families were referred to the Eastern Carolina Asthma Prevention Program (ECAPP) from Vidant Medical Center’s Emergency Department. Based on Beattie-Sergio’s findings, some cases were referred to legal aid to pursue action to get the living conditions improved by landlords and property owners.
Constantine Unanka, a Brody School of Medicine 2019-20 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow and a classmate of Beattie-Sergio’s, will take over the project and build on its momentum.
“These families are more than home assessments, they are people whom I have gotten to know over the past year and I genuinely care for their health and well-being,” Beattie-Sergio said. “Constantine shares that and will do a great job. My hope is that more public health students will seek this opportunity.”
Other 2018-19 ECU health sciences Schweitzer Fellows included:
- Hannah Conley and Hannah Smith, a Brody School of Medicine team that worked at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Community Center on their project leading “Promoting Reproductive Health Education in Pitt County.”
- Briana Hudson and Akeadra Bell, a School of Dental Medicine J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellows//Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation team who focused on improving the lives of HIV patients through increased awareness of HIV and proper oral health.
- Ashton Lyle and Greyson Vann, a School of Dental Medicine and Brody School of Medicine team, worked to expedite the dental clearance that cancer patients need before medical treatment can begin, as well as increase patient and provider awareness to reduce post-radiation complications.
- Caitlin Melvin and Bryan Yang, a School of Dental Medicine J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow/Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation team, implemented an on-site oral health program at the ECU Lab School that included educational outreach, screenings and referrals to a dentist they can see on a regular basis.
-by Spaine Stephens, University Communications