Born in Vietnam, Roland Palvolgyi emigrated to San Jose, California with his family in 1990. In a sadly common scenario within the area’s Asian American immigrant community—which is often faced with a lack of health education, access, and resources—he wasn’t vaccinated against hepatitis B until two years later.
Luckily, Palvolgyi did not become infected during those two vulnerable years. Now, as a Schweitzer Fellow and UCLA Geffen School of Medicine student, he has made it his mission to address the underlying issues (lack of health education, health access, and culturally appropriate health resources) that informed the early part of his personal story. Over the past year, Palvolgyi partnered with Asian Pacific American (APA) Health CARE and the Asian Pacific Liver Center to provide hepatitis B screenings at health fairs serving vulnerable populations, as well as conduct monthly educational workshops and seminars.
Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
I was born in Vietnam and my family immigrated to San Jose, California in 1990. Growing up in a community with a significant immigrant population, I had first-hand experience with difficulties like language and socioeconomic barriers, as well as the lack of education and access pertaining to healthcare.
I was not vaccinated against hepatitis B until spending two years in the United States, when my family received health insurance and acquired basic health education. Looking back at this experience, I realize I was at a high risk of being infected due to a lack of immunity. However, the overarching reason for this situation was due to a lack of health education in the uninsured community that I grew up in.
Through this experience and my parents’ recollections, I was made aware of the health care problems in Asian American communities, particularly those that affect uninsured immigrant populations. This awareness triggered my interest in culturally responsive care and drove me to develop my Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
I truly hope that our outreach efforts regarding Hepatitis B will resonate within the patient populations that we serve. With education being a crucial component in disease prevention, I encourage families to educate one another about screening and vaccination for Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, symptoms do not arise until late-stage liver failure, thus making Hepatitis B known as the “silent killer.” This essentially poses a barrier that can only be overcome through awareness, which is the first step to any change.
Los Angeles remains one of the most diverse regions in the United States, and with an increasing immigrant population from Southeast Asia, Hepatitis B is extremely prevalent. With more educational seminars, multilingual brochures, and workshops, entire families will learn about Hepatitis B. By implementing this project, my vision for the lasting community impact would be for people to be proactive about their healthcare and seek out screening for Hepatitis B.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
Especially in California, with an extremely diverse patient population, language and cultural barriers greatly contribute to disparities in healthcare. Particularly, this problem is prevalent in the uninsured immigrant population, where there is no regular access to primary care facilities. The lack of insurance and inability to communicate effectively with healthcare providers are both significant reasons why some patients have difficulty receiving adequate care. To address this, I believe that creating more education and outreach programs that target these populations would be extremely beneficial. In addition, holding more free health fair screenings offering primary care services will enhance patient awareness and limit spread of infectious diseases like Hepatitis B.
What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
I was very pleasantly surprised at the level of support from our mentors and concurrent Fellows. Because we have the opportunity to share about our projects every month, we help each other with the “boulders” we encounter. Knowing that help is around the corner is extremely reassuring and gives me inspiration to continue my project despite the challenges that present along the way.
The mentorship and networking opportunities we receive are invaluable aspects for cultivating our abilities as leaders in the community. For my project specifically, I work very closely with APA HealthCARE, an undergraduate organization that is the driving force behind our health fairs. I am very thankful to them and was very impressed with their efficiency and logistical abilities in organizing health fairs.
What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and, ultimately, Fellow for Life) mean to you?
Becoming an Albert Schweitzer Fellow has given me inspiration and empowerment to continue giving back to our community and creating positive change. It also gave me the opportunity to work towards something I feel passionately about, especially since it affected me personally at one point in my life. Through my experiences with the Fellowship, I have acquired indispensable leadership and life skills which I will strive to apply in every aspect of my life. For this, I am truly thankful for the Albert Schweitzer Foundation and the cause that it supports.
Roland Palvolgyi is a Schweitzer Fellow in Los Angeles, CA. Click here to read more about the Los Angeles Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Palvolgyi it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects. To make a gift to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in honor of Palvolgyi’s efforts to combat hepatitis B, click here.
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.