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RUSH Students Awarded Distinguished Schweitzer Fellowships for Innovative Community Health Projects

Five RUSH University students

Five RUSH University students have been selected as Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows and will now be a part of a yearlong service-learning program.

Viviana Aguayo and Leah Hoeniges from the College of Nursing and Oluwamuyiwa Winifred Adebayo, Tyler Linder and Evan Patel from RUSH Medical College will have the opportunity to lead ground-breaking health care initiatives aimed at addressing the health inequities underserved communities face.  

“These students are embodying the values of education and service, and the emphasis on health equity that is foundational to the RUSH educational experience,” says Fred Brown, DNP, RN, CENP, director, Generalist Education, College of Nursing. “We could not be more proud of our students for their persistent and passionate dedication to the advancement of health equity.”

Founded in 1996, the Chicago Area Schweitzer Program — named in honor of Nobel Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer — upholds his legacy of humanitarianism by encouraging fellows to design and implement projects with the goal of improving the health and well-being of underserved Chicago communities. As part of the program, each fellow will work with community organizations and dedicate a total of 200 hours of service.

With a comprehensive public health lens, the incoming fellows will focus on enhancing the overall health and well-being of historically underserved communities. Their initiatives will focus on addressing the social determinants of health — the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play and age that influence health outcomes and quality of life. The Schweitzer Fellows from RUSH are planning the following community projects:

  • Viviana Aguayo’s project will revolve around increasing health and nutritional literacy of children in medically underserved Latino communities to address inequalities and barriers to health care.
  • Leah Hoeniges plans to implement health literacy training courses on Chicago’s South Side. Hoeniges’ initiative will promote education related to gynecologic cancer screenings, diagnosis, treatment options and survivorship.
  • Oluwamuyiwa Winifred Adebayo will develop a multifaceted educational intervention for African American/Black adults living with cardiovascular diseases that will promote self-management and wellness while supporting tertiary prevention.
  • Tyler Linder’s initiative plans to address underserved youth affected by gang violence by supporting community education programs through RUSH University and Project sWish Chicago — a community organization that hosts basketball tournaments in neighborhoods significantly affected gang violence.  He plans to focus on educating youth on mental/physical health and well-being.
  • Evan Patel’s initiative will improve the accessibility of otolaryngology care for Chicago’s homeless population through the development of free in-person and telemedicine clinics. Patel hopes to break down barriers to quality health care that Chicago’s unhoused residents often face.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States,” Adebayo shared when asked why the community health issue she chose to address is important. “As a Black woman with personal connections to loved ones affected by cardiovascular diseases, exploring tertiary prevention in cardiovascular disease management is a project that is deeply meaningful to me. I feel fortunate to have the support and guidance of my mentors, peers and community partners as I embark on this important journey.”

“We are extremely proud of Viviana and Leah for joining the prestigious and distinguished Schweitzer Fellowship,” says Lynette Richter, DNP, RN, CCRN-K, CNL, CHSE, assistant dean, generalist education, College of Nursing. “As GEM students and future health care leaders, the experiences they will have as fellows will provide the opportunity to engage in the community, practicing the skills they learn in the classroom to support historically underserved communities in Chicago.”

The fellows were selected through a competitive process that included more than 100 applicants. The 2023-2024 fellows include students from 11 schools and 11 disciplines, ranging from nursing to urban planning and public health. The fellowship strives to cultivate lifelong leaders in service through exposure to real-world inter-professional, collaborative care.

“I chose to apply for the Schweitzer Fellowship because I believe that joining a group of graduate students who are all motivated to address health care inequality would lead to a high level of inter-collaboration and support,” said Patel. “I originally chose to pursue a career in health care to minimize societal disparities, and the Schweitzer Fellowship provides me with an opportunity to do that while still pursuing my degree.”

In addition to their service projects, Adebayo, Aguayo, Hoeniges, Linder, Patel and their peers will also participate in a thirteen-month program that includes monthly meetings, training and ongoing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. They will also have support from a team of mentors from their schools, project sites, alumni network and staff.

RUSH Medical College is extremely proud of our student’s commitment to addressing health care inequities and the work they are doing to break down these health care barriers,” says Cynthia Brincat, MD, PhD, interim dean, RUSH Medical College. “Our students are a shining example of RUSH values and its mission to provide care to all communities and advance health equity.”

The new fellows join a network of more than 700 Chicago alumni who have provided 120,000+ hours of community service to more than 150 community groups over the course of the program’s 27-year history.

You can learn more about the fellows and their service projects here.

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