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ECU Notes: Schweitzer Fellows serve others, gain leadership skills

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ECUNotes_Schweitzer-0734: Medical student and Schweitzer fellow Reena Patel speaks at a free educational event held at a local maternity store. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

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By ECU News Services

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ten East Carolina University graduate students will spend the next year making health care more accessible to populations that are often overlooked.

The students — five from the Brody School of Medicine and five from the School of Dental Medicine — have been named North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows for the 2017-2018 academic year. They represent nearly half of this year’s Schweitzer class, which comprises 23 students from ECU, Duke University, Wake Forest University, North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The fellows will partner with community-based organizations to implement service projects that address health disparities. At the same time, they will undergo leadership development training so they can inspire the next generation of health care professionals to improve the well-being of those who experience barriers to care.

For their Schweitzer project, first-year Brody School of Medicine students Reena Patel and Rebecca Jones are leveraging 12 collective years of nursing experience to provide no-cost prenatal and postpartum education to low-income mothers in Pitt County.

Patel, who worked as a labor and delivery nurse at WakeMed, and Jones, a former neonatal intensive care nurse at Duke University Hospital, will teach a five-week series to expectant and new mothers. The pair said there is currently no free comprehensive course that is this easily accessible in the area, which lags far behind the rest of the state in terms of newborn health.

“The infant mortality rate here is shocking,” Jones said, pointing to statistics from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that show the infant mortality rate in Pitt County has ranged from 28 percent to 60 percent higher than the state average every year since 2011.

The classes will cover labor and delivery, birth and the immediate postpartum period, newborn care and safety, and infant CPR. Recognizing that transportation can be a challenge for low-income mothers, the fellows are offering gas cards and free baby clothing to incentivize attendance. They are working with other area organizations such as Pitt County Public Libraries to provide additional prenatal and postpartum training to new mothers as well.

Third-year dental student Kiersten Bethea and first-year medical student Samantha Forlenza are teaming up to provide no-cost dental treatment and primary care for homeless patients.

They are establishing a clinic — based in Ross Hall and supported by the School of Dental Medicine — where dental students will treat patients’ emergency oral health needs. With their dental needs met, patients will then see medical students who will administer an HIV test and perform medical screenings to check basic measures of wellness such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose.

Next, School of Social Work students will conduct depression screenings and connect patients with additional resources such as a food bank or counseling services. The students will refer patients to dental and primary care providers who can provide comprehensive, ongoing care.

“A lot of these patients have never seen a dentist in their life or haven’t had a cleaning in years,” Forlenza said. “Being able to access all of these services at the same time is crucial for this population.”

Second-year dental students Kevin Holley and Trevor Staton are picking up where an earlier Schweitzer project left off. In 2014-2015, two dental students worked with the Greene Access Program (GAP), part of Greene County Health Care, to deliver oral health lessons to more than 1,200 elementary school children in Greene County. The fellows helped enroll the children in GAP clinical services, where they received preventative care such as dental sealants to reduce tooth decay.

Holley and Staton hope to expand GAP enrollment within selected Pitt County schools. Using public health data, Greene County Health Care has identified six schools in Pitt County with a high proportion of at-risk elementary students in need of dental services, both preventative and restorative.

An important part of the project is to engage school administrators and parents, after which the dental students hope to present oral health lessons in classrooms, enroll children in the dental sealant program, and assist in a referral program to help children and families establish dental homes.

Additional ECU 2017-2018 Schweitzer Fellows are dental medicine students Allen Bunch and Morgan Stroud, who will link pediatric patients to a dental home at the School of Dental Medicine, and medical students Katherine Mulligan and Yasamin Sanii, who are developing a project to help patients with chronic disease receive better continuity of care.

Since 1994, the North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program has supported 425 fellows from many academic disciplines through funding from various foundations, academic institutions and individual donors. This year’s 23 North Carolina fellows join approximately 240 others nationwide.

ECU’s Laupus Library to host 'Potion Power: Medicinal Herb Discoveries for Kids'

The William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library at ECU will host “Potion Power: Medicinal Herb Discoveries for Kids” on Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor gallery as part of a botanical exhibit from ECU’s Country Doctor Museum.

Currently on display, “Nature’s Remedies: Traditions of Botanical Medicine,” explores the history of using herbs and other plants as remedies and preventatives. Laupus invites children age 8 and up and their parents to visit the exhibit and participate in hands-on learning and exploration.

During the afternoon, children will visit several activity stations. One stop will allow them to make dream pillows using traditional medicinal herbs and mortars and pestles. An old-fashioned pharmacy station will require them to use math skills, play dough and antique pill rollers to fill prescriptions. At the microscope station, they will discover plant cells up close where they can compare dandelion fuzz to a carrot root. Lastly, children will be able to show off their creativity with a chance to color historic botanical drawings from the pages of the oldest coloring book in the world.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is not required. For more information contact Kelly Rogers Dilda at rogerske@ecu.edu or 252-744-2232.

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