Five pairs of medical students in the Class of 2023 have spent hundreds of hours over the past year focused on the needs of an underserved population in Vermont through the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program
. Each project tackles an important issue in tandem with a community partner, with topics ranging from teen engagement to social isolation in older adults to CPR training. Inspired by famed physician-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer’s message of service, students develop leadership skills and address the social factors that impact health. Since 1996, over 200 Larner students have completed over 25,000 hours of service after being selected as fellows in the New Hampshire-Vermont program.
Read more about the latest projects completed by Larner College of Medicine students, made even more challenging by navigating the COVID-19 pandemic while completing their work:
Combatting Social Isolation in Older Adults
In collaboration with Champlain Housing Trust and Cathedral Square, Jenna Elkhoury ’23 and Liam John ’23 developed a pilot project aimed at combating social isolation in older adults. Using an intergenerational model, they brought neighbors living in adjacent communities together to foster new relationships and connections. They also worked with local museums, farms, and other organizations to offer educational opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic required a rapid pivot to a virtual format, which offered lessons in being adaptable and flexible. Both students also pointed to the rich discussions the program fostered.
“…The stories and conversations we had with residents almost brought me to tears on quite a few occasions. Interacting with strangers in such a personal way felt deeply connecting, and everyone brought full attention and respect to each other. I could see on the faces of the attendees and even the community organization leaders that bonds were forming, connections were being made, and a sense of community was building. Though our sessions were small, maybe four or five people at most, they felt incredibly meaningful and impactful to those who attended.” - Jenna Elkhoury ’23
“I entered the fellowship thinking I was going to bring interesting topics/stories/opportunities to the people we served. Instead, the people we served shared their interesting selves, stories, and skills with us. Their perspectives and experiences were what made for rich discussion. We realized our role as a conduit for relationship building rather than entertainment. It was less important what outside organization we connected with and more important that we made space for neighbors to share about themselves and explore a variety of topics through intellectual conversation.” - Liam John ’23
The Vermont Resuscitation Initiative
In partnership with the emergency department at UVM Medical Center, Sean Muniz ’23 and Cyrus Thomas-Walker ’23 created the Vermont Resuscitation Initiative as a means to “increase bystander CPR training in Chittenden County and Vermont as a whole.” They were able to incorporate their project into an initiative from Daniel Wolfson, M.D., associate professor of surgery and emergency medicine physician, who received a grant to increase out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rates, especially in under-resourced populations in Vermont. Working with Wolfson, they were able to develop a “train the trainer” program for local rescue squads. They also partnered with communities of faith interested in training and taught CPR to a small group of pre-med students at UVM. Long term, the goal is to create a Student Interest Group at the College to further the initiative. Muniz and Thomas-Walker said that their experience showed them the power of community engagement.
“I learned another valuable lesson this year through the Fellowship: the impact that small, local projects can have on global problems. It can be overwhelming to try to tackle all the problems that afflict our current world. Through a variety of sessions with Fellows for Life, we were exposed to a whole host of individuals who are making a difference in their local communities and creating ripples throughout the globe through their local actions. This really resonated with me and is another lesson that I will take with me: find a niche, make your impact through service, and you will be surprised at the effects these will have on the world as a whole.” – Sean Muniz ‘23
“I believe the most meaningful experience of the community work associated with this project was presenting to EMS leaders in the area. As a former paramedic and budding leader in medicine, I began to realize the impact I hope to carry in my role as a doctor, advocate, and leader in serving the community and particularly around sudden cardiac arrest. Seeing other leaders, of whom would have been my supervisors in my previous career, be excited and invigorated by what I was presenting, made me feel the fulfilment I have been seeking in pursuing this career and community work.” – Cyrus Thomas-Walker ‘23
Reaching Teens in Milton, Vermont
Mark Oet ’23 and Victor Abraham II ’23 planned to hold in-person activities with the Milton Public Library’s Teen Space program, but COVID-19 required a pivot to virtual sessions with the community. They created a video series on topics that included study skills, friendship and boundaries, self-care and making healthy choices, my first job, unity, and choices after high school. Oet and Abraham also staged additional Zoom-events, including a live craft session where participants were invited to make keychains out of old baseballs and a book series focused on A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti. Oet and Abraham said the project was good preparation for a career that will require adapting to the changing needs of the community.
“The best advice we can give, and an overall lesson to take away from our experience, is to be flexible. During COVID, we had to reevaluate our strategy and general project multiple times. It was helpful to keep the end goal in mind and remind ourselves why we joined this organization. It is also essential to keep your community and community partner in mind; as things change and new the project gets a new direction, ask, “does this benefit those I was looking to help?” Our end-project is easily repeatable and is suitable for the mandated social distancing of our community partner and us. Adding more events and book readings, besides the ongoing interviews, would be very beneficial to continue this project.” – Victor Abraham II ‘23
“In talking with the library about future plans, we decided together that our video interview project had reached its natural conclusion, and because the library wouldn’t be opening for in-person Teen Space in the immediate future, it didn’t make sense to link the library to an LCOM club for maintenance of the project. However, I hope that more students in the future reach out to the library and choose to work together. It was a joy to work with the library staff. Though I wish the Schweitzer experience this past year had taken place under different circumstances, I would do it again without question. Working through the challenges of Covid was preparation for the rest of life, where things won’t go according to plan, yet I’ll still have to do my best.” – Mark Oet ‘23
Inspiring Young Women to Pursue STEM
Delaney Sztraicher ’23 and Jennifer Risi ’23 created an afterschool program for young women in third through fifth grade at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington, Vt. Titled “Marie’s Curious Girls,” the program was designed to educate and inspire participants to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical sciences. Thanks to COVID-19, the program relied on girls completing project kits at home or in the afterschool program. Once per week, Risi and Sztraicher would meet with the group virtually to host a discussion and conduct an experiment “together in real time.” The pair focused on the impact they could make.
“This project was an excellent example of how a few dedicated people could make a huge impact on the lives of community members. For Delaney and I, while this project was personally important to us, it was one aspect of our extremely busy and involved lives that juggled medical school, our personal/family lives, research, and other community service projects. However, this project was so meaningful to the girls who were involved in it and has the potential to alter the trajectory of their lives. While Albert Schweitzer made service his life's work, most people don’t have the ability to offer their whole life in the service of others. However, this does not mean that most people can’t have a huge impact on their community. This project showed that there is value in giving what you can, even if you can’t give your whole life.” – Jennifer Risi ‘23
“Throughout our sessions with the girls, we quickly grew strong bonds. Although we weren’t in person, we were able to learn a lot about each other. On one occasion I had to step out early from an experiment to attend my own class session. While Jenn was working with the girls in the next room, I could overhear the girls asking, “Where did Miss Delaney go?” This pulled at my heartstrings. I coveted the time we got to spend each week with the girls. We may have enjoyed it even more than they did.“ – Delaney Sztraicher ’23
Mentoring High School Students
Through the HERO program, Niv Badrinarayanan ’23 and Akua Frimpong ’23 matched high school students from underrepresented backgrounds with a first- or second-year medical student at the Larner College of Medicine. The goal was to foster mentoring relationships and help participants feel more comfortable pursuing a career pathway in the health sciences. The group also had the opportunity to meet health professionals from different fields and attend virtual sessions about topics including patient-centered care, cultural competence, and other aspects of health and medicine.
“When I learned I was going to get my medical education in Vermont, I was excited. Yet I knew nothing about Vermont except that Bernie Sanders was the senator and it was rated the second whitest state. However…I came with an open mind. I generally want to know the community that I am serving, working, or living in. This community is more diverse than I thought it was, especially in Winooski. There are many refugees and/or immigrants living in this community. Although I was not sure how many minorities we would have in the program, I was pleased to know there is a population here that we can serve.” – Akua Frimpong ‘23
“I particularly enjoyed meeting with my mentee and spending time with her to help her figure out what classes she needed to take for particular majors in college. As a high school student, I always struggled with that and it was very enjoyable to be able to talk through the process with someone. I also helped her figure out shadowing experiences, which was an interesting experience since I had no experience with shadowing in dentistry, which is what she was interested in. I learned about collaboration and mentorship and my mentee made it a very memorable experience for me.” - Niv Badrinarayanan ’23