Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a first-year Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
In our new installment, we talk with 2007-08 Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellow Betty Chung. While a Fellow (and a student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine), Chung worked to provide Hepatitis B education and screenings in Philadelphia’s Pacific American communities.
Why did you develop your particular project?
10-15% of those of Asian descent have hepatitis B compared to 0.3% of the general American population. Even though I have extended family members with hepatitis, I did not understand the prevalence of this disease within the Asian community until I attended a seminar on this topic by Dr Hie-Won Hann at an Asian Pacific American Medical Students Association (APAMSA) conference during my 1st year of medical school.
It was then that I decided to do something about this disease, where if identified and treated early, the patient can live an almost normal life span and if not treated, can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma. Particularly if pregnant women know their hep B status prior to giving birth, the baby can be given a hep B vaccination and immunoglobulins at birth to reduce the chances of contracting this disease.
What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?
I was very lucky to find others with a similar commitment at the University of Pennsylvania, particularly Dr. Esther Chen, along with Dr. Hie-Won Hann from Jefferson Medical College, who served as my Fellowship advisors, and Jon Sham, a UPenn medical student that I also worked closely with.
The education, screening, and vaccination program that we started together is still running to this day at a free health clinic that serves the Asian immigrant population in Philadelphia, with Dr. Chen as the advisor. The positively identified patients are receiving care from Dr. Hann or other physicians at the Chinese Medical Services, and those who were negative without immunity were given the opportunity to receive a free hep B vaccine series to protect them from future contraction of this disease that is more prevalent in our community.
The education that the patients received about hep B has spread by word of mouth and has made it so that now, patients come in asking to be screened instead of the clinic having to recruit patients for education and screening.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
I think that the most pressing health related issue at the moment is the number of people in this country who do not have access to quality, affordable health care. I’m glad to see all the buzz around health reform these days [read Beyond Boulders‘ coverage here], but it’s a shame that in such a seemingly developed country, 2/3 of our citizens do not have adequate health insurance to cover their medical bills, that people have to go bankrupt paying for their health care, and that our citizens die sicker and quicker than those of other developed countries.
It is time that we invest in a single payer model, or at the very least, provide a public option to our citizens who currently do not have adequate health coverage — and people might be surprised that this group encompasses people who are not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare and who have jobs but just can’t afford the coverage that they need. It’s not only the poor who are sick and don’t have enough health care coverage, its people like you and me.
We also need to address the health inequities that we have created that make it so that health status is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status in this country. We need to break down those policies and practices that, we, as a nation, have put into place that maintain an inequitable distribution of resources that impact the quality of our daily lives, and ultimately, health.
What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
I’m not sure if surprising is the word to use…but I’m still involved with the chapter where I did my Fellowship and still friendly with the coordinator even though a couple of years have passed. I also helped review applications to lead workshops at the FFL conference coming up in the fall, so I try and stay involved with the national effort as well.
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how have you carried it with you since your initial year as a Fellow drew to a close?
The work of Albert Schweitzer for me represents providing hope to those who may have previously been abandoned and providing service to underserved communities that many in society turn a blind eye to. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Schweitzer is that “I decided that I would make my life my argument. I would advocate the things I believe in, in terms of the life I live and what I did,” and this is how I try to live each and every day.
Like Dr. Schweitzer, I, too, came to medicine as a calling later in life and we only have one life to live, so I choose to live it serving others in causes that are near and dear to my heart.
I’ve continued my commitment to community service since the Fellowship ended and will continue to do so in my lifetime. I also hope to mentor many others as a Fellow for Life, [encouraging them] to commit to do the same.
ASF’s Greater Philadelphia Area program was founded in 2006. Under the leadership of David B. Nash, MD, MBA and colleagues at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program serves populations in Delaware, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and Southern New Jersey. This year, 14 new Fellows from the area’s top colleges and universities have been selected to join the program’s ranks, each partnering with a local agency and devoting more than 200 hours of service—click here for details on the new Fellows’ projects.