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"Being a part of the Schweitzer community motivates and inspires me," Martin says.

According to the Institute of Medicine and the American Cancer Society, individuals “who are poor, lack health insurance, or otherwise have inadequate access to high-quality cancer care typically experience high cancer incidence and mortality rates and low rates of survival from cancer.”

By partnering with Gilda’s Club Chicago to bring their cancer support programming to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County (a hospital that serves diverse and low-income populations) and Rush University Medical Center, Schweitzer Fellow and Rush University College of Nursing student Elizabeth Martin is doing her part to address that disparity.

Why did you decide to develop your particular Schweitzer project?

Prior to going back to nursing school, I worked as a clinical research manager at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute coordinating clinical trials in cutaneous oncology [skin cancers]. This professional experience exposed me to exceptional nurses, which piqued my interest in pursuing oncology nursing as an area of interest.

I did a year of service with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps after completing my undergrad, and I craved an additional service experience—so after starting graduate school and hearing about the Schweitzer Fellowship, I knew I immediately wanted to apply and do something related to oncology.

When searching for a project, I heard about Gilda’s Club Chicago and learned about all the wonderful programs that they offer for people living with cancer, as well as their friends and families. When I learned that Gilda’s Club Chicago wanted to expand on their satellite programs at local hospitals, I knew this would be a great opportunity to design a project. That is when I chose to expand the presence of Gilda’s Club and initiate my own programming at Rush University Medical Center and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. I have implemented a nutrition networking group with a featured recipe of the week, as well as a disease-specific support group.

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

I want the lasting impact to be that oncology patients, family members, and friends are aware of the support resources that exist in Chicago as well as nationally. I hope that people will realize there is a support community available, and it is does not need to be only in the form of traditional support groups. I want people to know that support can be social and emotional and involve fun activities at the same time.

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

I think the most pressing health-related issue is access to care. This is evident in my Fellowship work each week. I am struck by the clear disparity between two hospitals that are only a block away, one being a county hospital and the other a successful academic center.

I hope that health care reform can start to address access problems; however, access to care is a complex systems issue that will not be remediated with a quick fix. I personally think the first step would be adequate coverage for all individuals in our nation.

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

The most surprising element of my experience has been the power of perseverance. There have been times when my project has not gone as planned or has not had the attendance I’d hoped. I have learned that being proactive, trying to find solutions, and persevering through unsuccessful times can enable you and your project to succeed in ways you may not have imagined. I have learned to utilize my mentors to network and recruit members. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you dedicate time, energy, and take risks that are out of your comfort zone.

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and, ultimately, Fellow for Life) mean to you?

Being a Schweitzer Fellow means that I have a responsibility to set an example in my community. I feel honored to be a Fellow, and I feel inspired by other Fellows with each interaction we share. I am fortunate that I am able to spend each month among individuals who are passionate, driven, and dedicated to making small changes that impact underserved communities. Being a part of the Schweitzer community motivates and inspires me to do more with my own project and empowers me to believe that I can make an impact in my community.

To me, becoming a Fellow for Life means that I will be connected to a network of individuals who have the passion to serve and make a difference in their communities. I cannot predict where my career will take me, but I appreciate that I will always be in touch with inspirational people who challenge me.

Elizabeth Martin is a Schweitzer Fellow in Chicago, IL. Click here to read more about The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s & Health & Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG)’s  Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Martin it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable people and communities. To make a gift to support the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program, 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.

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