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April 14, 2010 - Medical Students at Drexel Build Programs Addressing Health Disparities

April 14, 2010

Drexel University College of Medicine students Karen Li and Guensley Delva have been selected as 2010-11 Schweitzer fellows. Each Albert Schweitzer Fellow partners with a community-based organization to identify an unmet health need, then designs and implements a program to meet those needs.

“What is fantastic about this program is that it encourages fellows to partner with community services and work with each other. I’ve learned about so many different opportunities and organizational skills that can be used even after this fellowship. It takes a lot of experience to create a lasting and sustainable project, which is what I plan to do,” says Li, a Jersey City native.

Li is working on a nutritional guidance program at the Nationalities Service Center, which provides resources including social, educational and legal services to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area. She’s recruiting medical students to talk to older adults about eating habits and educating them on the link between diet and health.

“One thing that’s a little different about my project is that it uses motivational interviewing,” says Li. This style of discussion is a more therapeutic way of communicating with people on how to change their lifestyles. To integrate this method, Li has partnered with Robert Chapman, Ph.D., clinical associate professor of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Drexel University.

“We are providing culturally sensitive materials such as food diaries and services tailored to specific ethnicities.” For example, Li is working on alternative versions of the conventional American food pyramid. “Instead of seeing whole grains, they would see a bowl of rice; instead of seeing salt, they would see a bottle of soy sauce,” explains Li, who’s also fluent in Chinese. Materials will also be printed in multiple languages.

Li and Delva are two of 16 Albert Schweitzer Fellowship recipients in the Greater Philadelphia region. While Li is focusing on healthier diets for seniors, Delva, a second generation Haitian, aims to address health inequalities in Philadelphia’s Haitian community. He plans to develop and conduct health education prevention workshops. The hurricane that devastated the island country in January affects even local Haitians' mental health, Delva said. He is in Drexel University College of Medicine’s post baccalaureate premedical program and intends to become a pediatrician down the line. “I’m really excited about what I’m about to embark on.”

“During this fellowship year, I plan to concentrate on breaking down the barriers that exist among different cultures and healthcare,” says Delva. In addition to dealing with silent killers, like hypertension and diabetes, Delva wants to apply his knowledge from his previous career as a teacher in Bronx, N.Y. “I’m working on a baby project that targets mental health issues and breaking through associated stigmas,” says Delva, who formerly worked with special needs children.

The Schweitzer Fellowship supports about 200 fellows a year from the nation’s top health and human service schools. Its mission is to foster understanding of the health needs of the underserved and inspire others to work with the underserved. After the year ends, the selected fellows become Schweitzer Fellows for Life, joining a network of over 2,000 individuals dedicated to addressing the health needs of underserved people throughout their professional careers.

Li and Delva will follow in the footsteps of Usha Kumar and Alex Potashinsky, 2009-10 Schweitzer Fellows from Drexel University College of Medicine. Kumar and Potashinsky developed a wound-care education campaign for Prevention Point Philadelphia, a multi-service public health organization that seeks to minimize the adverse effects of drug use and prostitution.