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Robert Joseph's paper about his Schweitzer project was recently published in the Journal of Health Communication.

Thirteen years ago, as a young podiatry student at Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine (now a part of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science) and a member of the second class of Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows, Robert Joseph witnessed a woman in the ER being told that her foot required amputation due to diabetes-related complications. So he took action, launching a Schweitzer project that focused on providing diabetic foot health education to Chicago’s Chinese community—and preventing situations like the one he had witnessed in the ER.

Joseph’s efforts paid off. He presented the information he gathered—and the lessons he learned—as a Schweitzer Fellow at the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference in 1998 (and received the Steven W. Toth Award from the Podiatric Section of the APHA).

Between then and now, Joseph—now an Assistant Professor at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, a sponsor of ASF’s newest program site—partnered with several communications PhD researchers to document his experience as a Fellow and how its applications, initial struggles, and ultimate success relate to Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Model. The resulting paper was recently published in the Journal of Health Communication (Health Commun. 2010 Sep;25 (6-7): 607-8).

In today’s installment, we chat with Joseph about the need for preventive care and health education—and the ways in which his experience as a Schweitzer Fellow solidified his belief in the power of community collaborations.

Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

As a podiatry student, I recognized the impact of diabetes on foot health and the subsequent risks of amputation. I realized the importance of preventative care and health education when I witnessed a woman in the emergency room being told that her foot would require amputation because of diabetes related-complications. It was not until facing amputation that she realized how diabetes could affect her feet.

The potential impact of preventative care and foot health awareness was vivid and clear at that moment. The experience was the impetus for my project, which provided diabetes foot health education for the prevention of lower extremity amputation.

What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?

My project piloted the delivery of diabetes foot health awareness at a grass roots level in the community. My work provided proof of the concept that the community could build grass roots health education programs through collaborations and existing community resources and practices that may also serve future programs.

More importantly, the work serves the greater health communication community as a model of how principles of health communication can be applied to grass roots health education campaigns and was recently published in the Journal of Health Communication.

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

The most pressing issue of our time is how our healthcare system will achieve the optimum balance between healthcare quality, access and cost while transitioning from our current inefficient system that focuses on treating the sequela of disease to one that focuses on maintaining health and preventing disease. I don’t have the answers, but I am confident that the solutions will come from a combination of initiatives that emphasize evidence based practices and metrics aimed at preserving health and empowering patients to engage as active players in their health management.

What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?

I was surprised at how my perspective of community leadership as a Fellow would change from a focus on being a “champion” of a specific community project, to a “champion” of community collaboration—which ultimately evolved into a community project. The transformation enabled me to appreciate the importance of grass roots community perspectives, culture, and voice when developing community based initiatives.

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow for Life mean to you?

The Fellowship is kind of fraternal relation among those who have chosen to engage rather than simply participate in assisting underserved populations.

Robert Joseph, DPM, PhD was a 1997-98 Schweitzer Fellow in Chicago, IL. Click here to read more about The Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program (hosted by Health & Medicine Policy Research Group) and the Fellows like Joseph it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that impact the health of vulnerable communities. To make a gift to The Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program in honor of Joseph’s efforts to provide diabetic foot health education to vulnerable communities, click here. Thanks to a matching grant from a generous anonymous donor, your gift will be doubled!

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.