, , , , ,

If you’ve picked up Boston Magazine‘s 2009 “top doctors” issue at your local newsstand, you’ve seen the smiling faces of three Schweitzer Fellows for Life — Manasa Patna, Zirui Song, and Venis Wilder — staring back at you from its pages.

Patna, Song, and Wilder — each of whom solidified their commitment to addressing the health needs of underserved populations as Schweitzer Fellows — make up one quarter of the magazine’s 12 top “doctors in progress.”

“I’m incredibly proud of these three Schweitzer Fellows for their commitment to working with individuals and communities in need throughout their careers,” says Albert Schweitzer Fellowship President Lachlan Forrow, MD.

As a 2006-2007 Boston Schweitzer Fellow with a preexisting interest in addressing the health needs of at-risk young women, Manasa Patna worked with the Center For Young Women’s Health at Children’s Hospital Boston  to develop a comprehensive leadership  development curriculum aimed at equipping female high school students with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to conduct outreach sessions with their peers.

“The Schweitzer program serves a very valuable role in the community in allowing students to connect with community projects,” says Patna, a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School.

Patna’s commitment to women’s health continues to shape her career path. She told Boston Magazine:

“I’m interested in working in India—I speak the language, and it’s where my family is from. As part of doing my master’s in public health, I went to work in southern India, looking at how you can reduce maternal deaths in rural areas. There’s a huge gap in women’s healthcare there, given the culture and gender biases in the system. Emergency obstetric services are scarce, facilities are poor. But at least now people are starting to look at maternal mortality as a human rights issue. No one was even thinking about the mothers’ health until recently, and today it’s beginning to be a priority.”

As a 2007-08 Schweitzer Fellow, Zirui Song collaborated with the Brookside Community Health Center in Jamaica Plain to develop a youth sports program as part of a comprehensive approach to encourage pediatric patients to adopt a healthier and more physically fit lifestyle.

“I feel it is especially important for future health care providers to engage in this kind of service during our training, as it brings a dose of reality and teaches us to think about the world in a meaningful way, not to mention giving us an opportunity to make a substantive contribution,” says Song, a Year IV MD/PhD student in Health Policy at Harvard Medical School who has contributed to Beyond Boulders in the past.

Song told Boston Magazine:

“At its core, economics is the study of human behavior, similar to psychology. So I’m using economics to study the doctor-patient relationship and physician behavior, things like how different types of doctors might respond to different types of payment systems.

I’m closely following the national healthcare reform debate, trying to understand all the intricacies. I think something will get done this year. But I also think that, just like what happened in Massachusetts, the first issue that will be addressed is access to care, and meanwhile the problem of cost control is going to be kicked down the road. We didn’t deal with that here, and now we’re in a situation where costs are skyrocketing.”

As a 2007-08 Schweitzer Fellow, Venis Wilder collaborated with the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston to create a program serving minority youth aimed at building self-esteem, promoting non-violence, and encouraging critical thinking about media portrayals of success, sexuality, and violence.

“This Fellowship opportunity … has given me an organized, formal way of maintaining my desire to serve while being in the midst of one of the most difficult years of medical school,” Wilder says.

Wilder told Boston Magazine:

“I went to college thinking I was going to be a judge. But after my freshman year, my father and I both had to go to the county hospital, and we received the worst care possible. Maybe they were overworked, but the doctors and staff made us feel we weren’t wanted. And I thought, ‘This is unacceptable.’ That’s when I started premed. I doubt I’ll end up practicing full time. I want to transform communities to be healthier, and that extends way beyond the doctor’s office.”

Patna, Song, and Wilder are just three of the 2,000 Schweitzer Fellows for Life across the country who are working to reduce health disparities in their careers as health professionals. Kudos to Boston Magazine for shining their spotlight on these three leaders in service.