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Over nearly two decades, The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) has selected and supported over 2,000 Schweitzer Fellows – exceptional graduate and professional school students who have delivered more than 400,000 hours of health-focused community service to people in need.

This month, the Columbus Schweitzer Fellows Program becomes the twelfth and newest U.S. Schweitzer Fellows program site dedicated to developing a pipeline of emerging professionals who enter the workforce with the skills and commitment necessary to address unmet health needs.

“From launching Los Angeles’ first micro-health clinic for post-incarcerated female youth, to establishing mobile legal programs that empower rural domestic abuse victims, Schweitzer Fellows have made a difference in hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people’s lives,” says ASF President Lachlan Forrow, MD. “Thanks to major funding from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and The Ohio State University (OSU), among other generous partners including Ohio University and Ohio Health, we are thrilled to be able to expand our programming to the Columbus and Athens communities.”

Now recruiting its first class of multidisciplinary Schweitzer Fellows—each of whom will partner with a local community-based organization to create and carry out a yearlong 200-hour service project that addresses an unmet health-related need in the Columbus area—the Columbus Schweitzer Fellows Program is hosted by The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Application information will be available in October at www.schweitzerfellowship.org/columbus.

“The Fellowship is a great fit with one of the goals articulated in the University’s and Medical Center’s Strategic Plan, which is to ‘commit to our communities in Ohio and across the world and make a difference in the lives of others,’” says Catherine Lucey, MD, FACP, Vice Dean for Education at the OSU College of Medicine. “Working in concert with other OSU Colleges as well as our colleagues at other Columbus-area universities, the potential community benefit of the program is enormous.”

Contributing OSU Colleges include Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Optometry, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Veterinary Medicine; the program’s contributing academic partner in Athens is the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In Columbus, as at ASF’s 11 other U.S. program sites, the vast array of Fellows’ Schweitzer projects will focus on health in a broad sense, reflecting the disparate perspectives brought to them by students from a wide range of disciplines including medicine, nursing, social work, law, and engineering.

“Several factors make the Schweitzer Fellowship’s programming unique, and that interdisciplinary interaction is one of them,” says Columbus Schweitzer Fellows Program Director Terry Bahn, EdD, who is also Director of Outreach and Engagement at OSU College of Medicine. “By learning to work respectfully and collaboratively with peers in other fields of study, Fellows broaden their understanding of the many social factors that impact health – and adjust their perspective and actions as future professionals accordingly.”

Accordingly, Columbus Schweitzer Fellows’ projects are likely to focus on everything from promoting early-childhood literacy and parent engagement, to launching and staffing community health centers and clinics, to encouraging healthy exercise and nutrition habits. Some projects will incorporate the 5-2-1-0 Healthy Kids Countdown, an initiative addressing childhood obesity sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and presented by ASF.

Another unique element of the Schweitzer Fellowship is the fact that it is not a “plug-in” volunteer opportunity; nor is it one that is undertaken while academic life is on hold.

“Instead of simply volunteering to fill a pre-set role, ‘‘ Bahn says, ‘‘Fellows must partner with community-based organizations to identify an unmet health need, design a sustainable service project with an enduring impact, and bring the project from idea to implementation. By doing so over the course of a year and on top of their regular academic responsibilities, Schweitzer Fellows learn to integrate service to vulnerable people into their everyday lives.’’

Upon successfully completing their initial Fellowship year, Columbus Schweitzer Fellows will become members of the Fellows for Life alumni network, a pipeline of emerging professionals with the capacity to effect change that will reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities impacting people’s health and lives.

“We are delighted and energized by the support we’ve received while getting this program off the ground – there is really a hunger for a program like this here in Columbus,” Bahn says. “Prospective applicants can begin applying in October, and we will select our first class of Fellows in early spring of 2011. I can’t wait for them to begin carrying out their Schweitzer projects and impacting the health and lives of the Columbus and Athens communities.”

For more information on the Columbus Schweitzer Fellows Program, including how to apply to become a Fellow and how to get involved as a sponsor, mentor, or community site partner, visit schweitzerfellowship.org/Columbus.

To schedule an interview with ASF leadership or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life, contact Patrice Taddonio at 617.667.5628 or ptaddoni@bidmc.harvard.edu.