Midwestern University Students Earn Prestigious Community Service Fellowships

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July 25, 2023 | Downers Grove, IL

Midwestern University students who earned the prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship are (from left) Julia Kavanagh (CCOM ’26), Paige Madden (CDMI ’25), and Chirag Shah (CCOM ’26).

Three Midwestern University students have been selected for the distinguished Schweitzer Fellowship. As part of this year-long service-learning initiative, the students will craft and complete service projects aimed at tackling the healthcare challenges faced by marginalized communities in the Chicago area.

Medical student Julia Kavanagh (Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine ’26) will partner with LYDIA Home to address the poor health outcomes of children in the foster care system. Dental medicine student Paige Madden (College of Dental Medicine-Illinois ’25) will work to make sure that senior citizens in our community benefit from preventative healthcare. Medical student Chirag Shah (Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine ’26) will create a medical literacy program that serves non-English speaking residents and provide information on accessing healthcare and understanding individual health.

In her collaboration with LYDIA Home, a foster group home in Chicago, Julia will hold weekly sessions with children and teach them about various aspects of health and well-being – both physical and mental. “I believe that preventative medicine and education are just as important as curative care, and that stems from quality and accessible healthcare at a young age,” Julia said. “This Fellowship will give me the tools to make meaningful change in this area. Not only will it push me out of my comfort zone, but it will teach me vital lessons about caring for marginalized children and their families. I hope that the lessons I learn will allow me to become a more empathetic and well-rounded future pediatrician.”

For her project, Paige aims to improve health outcomes for the elderly through a lecture series on oral health. She will focus on simplifying dental terminology, navigating dental insurance, and finding affordable care options. “By providing valuable knowledge and empowering seniors, I strive to improve their oral health outcomes and overall well-being,” she said. “My objective is to enhance the comprehension of oral health and the intricate issues that arise with aging. As the population progressively ages, it becomes imperative for us to redirect our attention toward establishing and sustaining optimal oral health standards for seniors. By empowering patients and diminishing obstacles to dental care, we can not only enhance oral health conditions but also bolster overall well-being.”

In an effort to improve health outcomes, Chirag's project will focus on enhancing health literacy among Chicago's Hispanic/Latino population, particularly non-primary English speakers. “I hope to improve the community’s understanding of their health status and how to access services to achieve better health outcomes for this community. I also hope to help bridge a communication gap that exists due to language barriers,” Chirag said. “Being a Schweitzer Fellow will help me in the future as it teaches me how to connect with a community and better understand how to assess the needs of my patient population. Furthermore, the connections we make with each other will prove invaluable in learning more about other areas of health,” he added.

Named in honor of humanitarian and Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program encourages students to become lifelong leaders in service by addressing unmet health needs among divested Chicagoland residents. Each fellow collaborates with existing community organizations to create a community-based project, dedicating a total of 200 hours of service.

“This Fellowship serves as a crucial stepping stone in comprehending the unique needs of the community and devising strategies to overcome barriers to care effectively,” Paige said. “I appreciate my amazing academic and site mentors for encouraging me and providing the tools necessary for me to play my part in reducing health disparities in our community.”

The 2023-2024 Fellows include students from 11 schools and 11 disciplines, ranging from nursing to urban planning and public health. This class of Fellows was selected from a pool of almost 100 applicants through a competitive process. The three students from Midwestern University join a distinguished group of Midwestern alumni who have also been selected for this prestigious program.

In addition to their service projects, the Fellows will participate in a 13-month program that includes monthly meetings, training, and ongoing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration as well as support from a team of mentors from their schools, project sites, alumni network, and staff. The new Fellows join a network of over 700 Chicago alumni who have provided over 120,000 hours of community service to more than 150 community groups throughout the program’s 27-year history.