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We’ve written before about Houston Schweitzer Fellow Joshua Liao,  who — along with Schweitzer Fellow Revathi Jyothindran — dramatically increased the rate of follow-up care for newly-diagnosed HIV patients in Houston.

In a recent issue of IMPact (the medical student newsletter of the American College of Physicians), Liao reflects on the ways in which medical education can and should focus on community service in order to cultivate more empathetic, selfless health care providers.

Liao points out several different approaches to integrating community service with medical education, including the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)’s creation of “a dedicated community service office to support a voluntary, but structured, service program.”

He also discusses The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s unique model:

Having just completed my fellowship year addressing HIV linkage and follow-up care, I feel that the Schweitzer Fellowship provided a particularly powerful structure for cultivating service. First, it required that the students themselves identify unmet needs and craft project proposals, ensuring that we identified issues we personally encountered and then thought critically about to address them.

Secondly, the work was done over twelve months concurrently with our academic/clinical responsibilities, allowing us to experience the time, energy, and resources required to serve our communities both as service workers and healthcare professionals.

Thirdly, the multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional nature of the program allowed for a unique blend of encouragement, brainstorming, and growth. As a MD candidate, I brought certain clinical, patient-care perspectives that helped inform others’ work, but I also learned a great deal about myself and my project from the other fellows who were studying public health and social work.

Fourthly, the Fellowship emphasized regular feedback, introspection, and planning, aspects that I found particularly helpful when I had to re-assess the direction of my project or face setbacks.

All in all, the Schweitzer Fellowship was as complete a service opportunity as I’ve ever experienced in medical school because it allowed me take ownership of my work while having access to ready support, persevere through tough periods while brainstorming creative alternatives with others, and realize that lifetimes of service begin with a few initial steps, ones I don’t have to – and perhaps shouldn’t – take alone.

Read Liao’s thoughtful and powerful piece here.