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Before being selected as a Schweitzer Fellow, students must propose a service project that addresses the unmet health needs of underserved communities in a direct and sustainable manner (and that is carried out in partnership with a community-based organization).

In carrying that project from idea to implementation — on top of their other graduate school commitments — our Fellows come away with something more than the satisfaction of having had an impact on health disparities. They emerge from their initial year with a hard-earned blueprint for how to consistently integrate service into their (very busy) lives.

That initial year is a gateway rather than an endpoint — that’s why we call Schweitzer Fellows who have completed their first year “Fellows for Life,” and that’s why those Fellows for Life (over 2,000, now living in 45 of 50 states) are such a vibrant resource, both to each other and to their communities.

Members of the Fellows for Life network are shaping health policy, serving their communities directly, and supporting each other in sustaining a commitment to service. And they’re also taking on leadership roles within ASF.

In fact, five of the people at the retreat — ASF President Lachlan Forrow, MD (1982, Lambaréné); New Orleans Program Director Holly Scheib, MPH, MSW (2008-2009, New Orleans); Chicago Programs Assistant Janna Stansell, MPH (Chicago, 2007-2008); Los Angeles Program Director John K. Su, MD, MPH, FAAFP (1999-2000, Boston); and ASF National Programs Director Meghan Johnson, MS (2000-2001, Boston) — are Fellows for Life.

There will be much more to come in future posts about our Fellows for Life, and their continuing role as change agents. But for today, I’ll just say this: as a relative newcomer to ASF, I can’t think of a better proof of this organization’s validity than the powerful presence of the leaders it has shaped — and who continue to shape it.