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"It is the goal at our clinic to deliver diabetic foot care education/screenings as part of our treatment to at-risk patients," Beier says.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, “only through a multidisciplinary approach addressing the diversity of possible foot problems in people with diabetes can the desired reduction in amputation rates be achieved.”

Schweitzer Fellow Dresden Beier, a student at Samuel Merritt University’s California School of Podiatric Medicine, is taking exactly that approach. Galvanized by recent health care budget cuts that left underserved people in the Bay Area (a number of whom suffer from diabetes) with reduced access to podiatric services, Beier is partnering with Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) from Samuel Merritt and the Davis Street Clinic in San Leandro to provide both podiatric care and preventive education.

Beier’s podiatry clinic is open two Sundays a month, and serves at-risk patients referred by FNPs who run a medical clinic at Davis Street during the week. The patients Beier sees are often unable to receive podiatric care otherwise. Read on for an inside look at Beier’s motivations, and why he believes patient education and early intervention are crucial components of addressing diabetes.

Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

Due to recent health care budget cuts, many uninsured patients in the Bay Area have lost their access to podiatric medical services.  The established free clinics in the area have substantial wait periods, so I wanted to start a clinic in San Leandro that would be able to deliver care for common foot and ankle complications.

Diabetes is a cause of many lower extremity problems that if left untreated can result in amputations.  Many of the complications that lead to the loss of a limb can be avoided by following diabetic foot care guidelines.  It is imperative that patients with diabetes have their feet evaluated by podiatrists, and it is the goal at our clinic to deliver diabetic foot care education/screenings as part of our treatment to at-risk patients. 

What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

I hope that my project will help educate diabetic patients about the importance of proper foot care, and hopefully reduce or prevent them from developing wounds on their feet that may lead to a catastrophic event.

What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

One of the most pressing health-related issues is the increase in diabetic patients and the age at which this disease is manifesting itself.  There is a strong correlation between the increase in childhood obesity and the increase in children being diagnosed with non-insulin dependent diabetes.

Diabetes is controllable, if not preventable, through healthy eating habits and exercise—but diabetic complications involve multiple body systems and results are debilitating if preventive steps are not taken at the early onset of the disease.  Peripheral neuropathy, vascular complications, and foot ulcers are all related to uncontrolled diabetes, and all are avoidable through early intervention and education about the disease process.

Patient education and early intervention are probably the most crucial things we as health care professionals can do to address issues surrounding this complicated disease.

What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

Besides the gratification of working with patients in the clinical setting, the most surprising experience I’ve had is the amount of support I have received from faculty members at Samuel Merritt University and alumni/companies that have donated to the school for these types of projects.  The patient and staff interactions that I have had during this project have been amazing, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?

Being a Schweitzer Fellow allows me to be part of an organization devoted to service and enables me to be humbled by the many great things people do for each other out of sheer compassion.  I feel very fortunate to be a Fellow in an organization that is built around compassion and reverence for life, as Albert Schweitzer put it.

Dresden Beier is a Schweitzer Fellow in the San Francisco Bay Area. Click here to read more about the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Beier it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that impact the health of vulnerable communities. To make a gift to the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program in honor of Beier’s efforts to increase access to podiatric care, click here.

Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.

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