Four students from the East Carolina University (ECU) School of Dental Medicine have been named to the 2021-22 cohort of North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows. They will join a class of 25 graduate students who will spend the next year learning to effectively address the social factors that impact health while developing lifelong leadership skills, ECU said.
The students will explore projects that align with the school’s mission to serve eastern North Carolina and to increase access to healthcare for patients who need it.
Ricky Ghai and Cody Phen will work to create an avenue for parents and guardians of the children seeing at the Bertie County School-Based Oral Prevention Program to receive dental care and establish a dental home at the ECU Community Learning Center in Ahoskie. They will be mentored on-site by Dr. Ford Grant. Drs. Thomas Tempel, Andres Flores, and Wanda Wright are their academic mentors.
Richa Vyas and Kari Wordsworth will aim to accelerate the dental clearance process for cancer patients so they can begin treatment earlier. They also will lead student and provider education to improve the delivery of medical and dental care to these patients including follow-up care, cleanings every three months, replacement of extracted teeth, and restorative treatment for new carious lesions.
Funding is in place to provide care to those patients who are unable to afford it. Vyas and Wordsworth will be mentored on site at the ECU School of Dental Medicine, ECU ENT, and ECU Department of Radiation Oncology by Dr. Iquebal Hasan. Dr. Matt Causey is their academic mentor.
“Now more than ever, it is critically important our next generation of health professionals understand the challenges community members face in achieving health and wellness, learn how to develop initiatives which will help overcome those challenges, and use their voice to advocate for our most vulnerable,” said Barbara Heffner, director of the NC Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
“I’m impressed with the creative ways the Fellows are addressing the gaps in our healthcare system as well as those that have surfaced during the pandemic,” Heffner said.
Schweitzer Fellows develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities. Each project is implemented in collaboration with a community-based organization.
Schweitzer Fellows also experience an intensive leadership component during the program, working closely with community and academic mentors during their fellowship year. They often serve as role models for their peers, inspiring others to improve the health of those who experience barriers to care, ECU said.
The 25 North Carolina Fellows will join more than 200 other 2021-22 Schweitzer Fellows working at program sites across the country. The program has 13 locations in the United States and one in Lambarene, Africa.
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