2 Gillings students to address health disparities as Schweitzer Fellows

June 1, 2023. Gillings School News.

The North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (NCASF) recently announced the selection of its 2023-24 class of Schweitzer Fellows. Twenty-nine graduate students — including two from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health — will spend the next year learning how to effectively address the social factors that impact health as they develop lifelong leadership skills.

Avani Desai (left) and Lisa Regula (right)


Lisa Regula, a Master of Public Health student at Gillings, will partner with Avani Desai, a student at the UNC School of Medicine, to support patients at the Trauma and Acute Care Surgery Clinic at UNC Medical Center.

Together, they will provide help for individuals with low incomes who have recently undergone trauma and emergency general surgery. The Fellows will provide patients with durable medical equipment, wound care guidance and food security support to reduce post-surgical financial stress. Along with a team of student ambassadors, the Fellows also will conduct weekly check-ins with each patient to provide social support, appointment reminders, education for patients and their caregivers, and resource connection to improve post-surgical outcomes and support patients’ return to independence.  Their mentor is Trista Reid, MD.

Ashkan Habib (left) and Rayad Shams (right)


Gillings Master of Public Health student Ashkan Habib with work with UNC School of Medicine student Rayad Shams in collaboration with Piedmont Health Services.

Habib and Shams will support the federally qualified health center by coordinating visits from mobile health clinics to the medically underserved rural areas of Chatham, Alamance, Caswell, and Lee counties, where the clinics will provide free medical and dental care. Their mentors are Karin Yeatts, PhD, and Jan Lee Santos, MD.

Other Fellows in this year’s class represent medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, occupational therapy and law.

“Schweitzer Fellows are not given a project or told to address a specific health need,” said Barbara Heffner, executive director of the NCASF. “They follow their passion and the needs of the community to develop innovative approaches that fill gaps in our health care system.”

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.

Other service initiatives run by this class of Fellows will offer emotional support and companionship for patients at the end of life; a Narcan training program; fall risk assessments for older adults; mental health services for Cherokee Indians, postpartum support for new moms; self-esteem programs for preteen Black and LatinX girls; free vision care and eyewear for people experiencing homelessness; and more.

Learn more about the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellowship.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.