“I wish I understood diabetes so that I could control it rather than it control me,” “Sally” told me last week. “Sally” is a patient at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless. Like many diabetic patients at the Day Center, “Sally” was overwhelmed and confused about her diabetes diagnosis.
As an Albert Schweitzer Fellow and osteopathic medical student at the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa (OSU-COM), I had the opportunity to design a diabetes education program at Day Center for hundreds of patients just like “Sally.”
The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship supports health professional graduate students in 15 regions around the US to become leaders in their field. In addition to regular coursework, fellows implement a 200-hour community-based service project that addresses a local unmet health need. In addition, fellows develop as lifelong leaders through development training, peer reflection, and mentorship.
Experience in the community
Tulsa’s homeless population faces barriers in their management of diabetes, and at the time I became an Albert Schweitzer Fellow, there was no formal program at the Day Center to educate patients about diabetes and how to manage it. The experience of designing and implementing a diabetes education program in partnership with the Day Center’s leadership team has been profound, as it has filled an immense gap in the community. Working directly with patients in a primary care clinic and developing individualized counseling and education for patients helps them gain better control of their diabetes.
In our short time together, “Sally” learned how to correctly check her blood-glucose levels and properly store her medication. We also scheduled an appointment with an optometrist for vision screening. “Sally” left the clinic feeling empowered in her ability to manage her disease. In experiences like this, my project has given me skills I may have never gained in the classroom.
Preparing future physicians
Even though the first and second years of medical school traditionally mean bookwork and learning how to do physicals on patients in a simulation clinic, a critical part of early medical education is gaining experience in a primary care setting. Supplementing my education with real-life experience at the Day Center became possible through the Schweitzer Fellowship.
Because of the importance of real-life experiences outside the classroom, opportunities like the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship are invaluable. These opportunities cultivate leaders by giving students real-life community-based experiences and by pushing students to think critically about health care barriers within their communities.
I am fortunate that OSU-COM supports opportunities like the Schweitzer Fellowship for students to address real health issues in the community. Medical schools across the country can accomplish their goal of graduating well-trained and knowledgeable physicians by endorsing opportunities for students to conduct community-based projects that fill unmet health needs.