Schweitzer Fellows foster partnerships to meet the needs of the underserved
Ten ECU graduate students will spend the next year making health care more accessible to populations that are often overlooked.
The students — five from the School of Dental Medicine and five from the Brody School of Medicine — have been named North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows for the 2017-2018 academic year. They represent nearly half of this year’s Schweitzer class, which comprises 23 students from ECU, Duke University, Wake Forest University, North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
The fellows will partner with community-based organizations to implement service projects that address health disparities. At the same time, they will undergo leadership development training so they can inspire the next generation of health care professionals to improve the well-being of those who experience barriers to care.
“Many of our fellows go on to build impressive professional careers. The process of moving their fellowship projects from an initial concept to completion teaches them valuable skills in working with others in allied fields,” said Dr. Bruce Auerbach, chair of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Board of Directors. “As Schweitzer Fellows develop professionally, this skill is critical to their ability to effect larger-scale change among vulnerable populations.”
The five dental medicine fellows are Kiersten Bethea, Kevin Holley, Trevor Staton, Allen Bunch, and Morgan Stroud.
Dental treatment and long-term primary care for the homeless
Third-year dental student Kiersten Bethea and first-year medical student Samantha Forlenza are teaming up to provide no-cost dental treatment and primary care for homeless patients.
They are establishing a clinic — based in Ledyard E. Ross Hall and supported by the School of Dental Medicine — where dental students will treat patients’ emergency oral health needs. With their dental needs met, patients will then see medical students who will administer an HIV test and perform medical screenings to check basic measures of wellness such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose.
Next, School of Social Work students will conduct depression screenings and connect patients with additional resources such as a food bank or counseling services. The students will refer patients to dental and primary care providers who can provide comprehensive, ongoing care.
“A lot of these patients have never seen a dentist in their life or haven’t had a cleaning in years,” Forlenza said. “Being able to access all of these services at the same time is crucial for this population.”
Forlenza and Bethea plan to launch their clinic in August with the goal of serving at least 75 patients by spring 2018.
Healthy teeth for elementary students
Second-year dental students Kevin Holley and Trevor Staton are picking up where an earlier Schweitzer project left off. In 2014-2015, two other dental students, who were also Schweitzer Fellows, worked with the Greene Access Program (GAP), part of Greene County Health Care, to deliver oral health lessons to over 1,200 elementary school children in Greene County. The fellows helped enroll the children in GAP clinical services, where they received preventive care such as dental sealants to reduce tooth decay.
Holley and Staton hope to expand GAP enrollment within selected Pitt County schools. Using public health data, Greene County Health Care has identified six schools in Pitt County with a high proportion of at-risk elementary students in need of dental services, both preventive and restorative.
An important part of the project is to engage school administrators and parents, after which the dental students hope to present oral health lessons in classrooms, enroll children in the dental sealant program, and assist in a referral program to help children and families establish dental homes.
“Our project aims to address the lack of oral health services for many elementary school students in Pitt County by offering classroom instruction as well as free dental screenings and sealants through partnership with the local federally-qualified health-care center known as Greene County Health Care,” Holley explained.
“Coming from an underserved part of the state, I feel that this project can provide me with good experience and knowledge that I can one day take back to my hometown,” said Staton, a native of Hayesville, N.C.
Tackling toddler oral health
Fourth-year dental student Allen Bunch and third-year dental student Morgan Stroud are expanding ECU’s Prenatal Oral Health Program (pOHP) by focusing on the pediatric population. Their project is modeled after the Baby Oral Health Program (bOHP) at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry.
Bunch and Stroud are establishing a direct referral system from the ECU Department of Pediatrics to the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s pediatric dentistry clinic. This project will initially center on pediatric patients between the ages of three and five, as this is the age of patients identified at the dental clinic to be most in need of establishing a dental home.
Bunch and Stroud will provide awareness presentations for residents, physicians, and medical students of the ECU Department of Pediatrics about pediatric oral health including information on fluoride varnish, oral hygiene practices, and tools to examine and refer patients for routine dental care, dental urgencies, and dental emergencies.
“The care of pediatric patients offers a unique opportunity to educate both patients and caregivers on the importance of establishing and maintaining optimal oral health. There is no other point in life that the dentist will have the same level of parental concern, attention, and compliance,” said Morgan Stroud.
Addressing unmet health needs — for life
Since 1994, the North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program has supported 425 fellows from many academic disciplines through funding from various foundations, academic institutions and individual donors. This year’s 23 North Carolina fellows join approximately 240 others nationwide.
Fellows all work with mentors at one of 14 program sites across the U.S. and in Lambaréné, Africa, where physician-humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer founded a hospital in 1913. Upon completion of their fellowship year, awardees become Schweitzer Fellows for Life and join a vibrant network of more than 3,400 Schweitzer alumni nationwide who are skilled in – and committed to – improving the health and well-being of underserved people throughout their careers.