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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.

Shows like MTV’s Teen Mom have shone a spotlight on the issues faced by young mothers and their children, and observances like National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day this past May have reminded the public that disproportionate socionomic burdens often face teenage mothers — and impact their children’s health and lives as well as their own.

Schweitzer Fellows Candice Roberts and Michelle Long are doing sometheing about it. Roberts and Long are students at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a sponsor of the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program—and they’ve launched a teen parent education program aimed at educating teen mothers about the importance of finishing high school, attaining government aid, obtaining higher education, preventing secondary pregnancy, and adopting healthy lifestyles for themselves and their babies.

Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

While working with a pediatrician during my first year of medical school, I have witnessed firsthand how vital medical education is to both children and parents. To better my understanding of the effects of teenage pregnancy on newborns, I partnered with a fellow medical student who worked full time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Our final project idea came after meeting with the Davidson County Health Department and understanding their need for a teenage parenthood education program. We decided to direct our project towards providing health education to teenage mothers in hopes of providing a better quality of life for both their children and themselves.

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

We hope that this program will help reduce the amount of premature births and visits to the neonatal intensive care unit by providing resources to teenage mothers. We not only hope that they have a healthy pregnancy, but also that they will continue their education to finish high school and beyond.

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

Providing equal access to health care is the most pressing issue that our country is continuing to deal with. There is no clear, single answer to this issue.

I do feel that healthcare providers can make a huge impact on providing equal access to care, just by volunteering their time to help serve and advocate for the underserved. Healthcare providers can volunteer their time at a local clinic and/or provide free and reduced-cost services to underserved patients in their office. By acting as an advocate for the population they serve, they can give a voice to those who otherwise would not have one.

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

The most surprising element of my experience so far as a Schweitzer Fellow is how willing classmates and local businesses are to offer help and donations for our project. In these financially difficult times, I was not very optimistic about receiving donations for our program. To my surprise, businesses are very willing to help and provide support for our project. Classmates have also volunteered their time to drive 30 minutes away to speak to these girls. I am very excited that we have so much community support for our program.

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?

Being a Schweitzer Fellow means making a difference. As a Schweitzer Fellow, I can make a difference in the lives of others, as they impact my life as well. Being a Schweitzer Fellow is more than just establishing a Teen Parent Education Program, but it is providing support and mentorship to teenage girls. It is impacting others to not only better their own lives, but the lives of others as well.

Candice Roberts is a Schweitzer Fellow in North Carolina. Visit schweitzerfellowship.org/northcarolina to read more about the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Roberts it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that impact the health of vulnerable communities. To make a gift to the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program in honor of Roberts’ efforts to improve maternal and child health in underserved communities, click here.

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