Alabama Schweitzer Fellows: class of 2020-21 project updates

by Mary Ashley Canevaro; Reposted with permission from the UAB School of Medicine News

In 2019, four students were selected from UAB School of Medicine as the 2020-21 class of Alabama Schweitzer Fellows: Maahum Kamal, Abigayle Kraus, Sheila Mallenahalli, and Jean Paul Osula. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) of Alabama is a program that helps students in various health professions create and implement service projects that address health disparities in under-resourced communities.

The fellows spend 15 months learning to address social factors that impact health, while developing lifelong leadership skills. They serve alongside 12 other students from Auburn University, The University of Alabama, UAB School of Health Professions, UAB School of Public Health, UAB School of Nursing, and UAB School of Dentistry.

To date, each of the students have been involved in high impact work. Below is a brief overview of each School of Medicine project, including the fellow’s community site, descriptions of each project, and updates from the past year.

Maani Kamal

Maani is addressing the low rate of HPV vaccinations in disadvantaged communities by establishing a program that incorporates patients, guardians, and health care providers. The goal of Maani’s work is to increase the rate of vaccinations in a specific patient population. Both of the HPV vaccinations (two in a series) are recommended in the pre-teen to teenage years. Maani is working with Alabama Regional Medical Services (ARMS) at two pediatric clinics (Crestwood and Northside) to quantify the vaccination rate in their current patients, understand barriers to this life saving intervention, and increase the percentage of patients that are vaccinated against HPV. Ultimately, this initiative will educate the public about the importance of vaccines, and help ARMS build processes to decrease patients who are lost to follow-up.

Maani has completed an initial needs assessment and is beginning to implement several of the best practices identified for increasing vaccination rates, working with the QI team at ARMS.

Maani says, “From last month’s meeting and assigned resources, I learned about the importance of systematic quality improvement. As someone who likes to see results, I wanted to make multiple changes at a time because that seems like the fastest way to achieve an outcome. However, I now understand the value of systematic change and data gathering at each interval. I have also learned the importance of building relationships with the community through this fellowship. The people working on-site know their patient population well and have already committed a career to serving them. They are your biggest advocates and best sources of knowledge when it comes to how to effectively help patients at the site!”

Learn more about Maani’s project here:

Abigayle Kraus

Cardiomyopathy is the number one cause of postpartum maternal death, and in Alabama, maternal death is the third highest in the country. Abigayle Kraus aims to develop patient education on living with cardiomyopathy in the postpartum period, and to complete a qualitative needs assessment of current obstetric patients with cardiomyopathy at UAB. The project goal is to alleviate education gaps and to uncover barriers faced by cardiomyopathy patients as they traverse the healthcare system for both themselves and their child. Her hope is to create a small step forward in union with a much larger goal—reducing maternal morbidity & mortality in Alabama among women with cardiomyopathy. This project’s community site is the UAB Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Division of Cardiology.

To date, Abigayle has enrolled six women in her program with the goal of eventually reaching eight in total. She’s been surveying the participants about their needs to determine primary barriers, and is brainstorming education materials that can be created in the remaining months to help women now and in the future.

On her work, Abigayle says, “This month I learned about the importance of flexibility when implementing a community-based project. Many of the women perceived a phone survey as more time consuming than a survey that could be emailed and fill out by themselves. At first, I was hesitant to change the protocol of the project. However, after discussing the options with [my mentors], I realized that this could actually be an improvement from the current protocol of survey administration… because I am able to have an idea of their thoughts and problems before speaking with them on the phone. My conversation with the women will now be to expand upon their answers and to discuss how I can help improve their experience.”

Learn more about Abigayle’s project here:

Sheila Mallenahalli

Sheila Mallenahalli is addressing the difficulties encountered by caregivers of spina bifida patients by developing educational materials of care guidelines in a simple and easy-to-understand format. This will be done by creating physical and virtual informational kiosks that can provide effective examples of strategies to manage long-term care of a dependent. Sheila’s community site is UAB Spain Rehabilitation Center.

After speaking with patients and caregivers, Sheila learned that one challenge of spina bifida patients and their caregivers is bowel management. Now, she’s focused on creating a protocol for the healthcare team on how to best teach these skills to the patients and their caregivers, and then she plans to adapt those materials into patient-focused guides that they can use on their own.

 She says, “The past meeting that was focused on wellness was extremely important and made me take a step back to reflect on how I was handling life outside of school and ASF. That meeting was also great timing because these past few weeks have been among the most stressful I’ve had since starting med school. Having some of these wellness strategies in my back pocket has been great because it gives me something to fall back on. Practicing these has helped me manage my stress and has definitely helped to get me back on track to being as productive as I can!”

Learn more about Sheila’s journey with ASF:

Jean Paul Osula

Jean Paul plans to work with the Academy of Health Sciences Schools in Birmingham to foster interest in careers in the Health Sciences. The program seeks to provide students with career exposure through UAB’s professional schools. Additionally, the program will implement a hands-on learning curriculum that will strengthen the student’s academic skills, professionalism, and career-preparedness. Jean Paul’s community site is the Birmingham Education Foundation & Parker High School.

With COVID-19 altering the school environment for Birmingham City Schools, Jean Paul’s project has experienced many delays. He focused initially on developing the lessons he would teach to the students, and now that students have returned to in-person learning, Jean Paul is gearing up for orientation with the health academy students.

Jean Paul says, “This month I learned a new skill from one of the other Fellows. In response to some delays in my project, I reached out to Greer to help him with his Schweitzer project. In order to do that, I had to learn how to do qualitative coding using a socioeconomic model. Greer had pre-recorded videos for me to learn how to code and I spent six hours learning and coding for him. This experience was extremely exciting and impactful because first and foremost, I was able to assist another Fellow with their work for the community. Secondly, I was able to pick up a secondary skill through helping someone else.”

Watch an overview of Jean Paul’s project here:

The School of Medicine Schweitzer Fellows are joined by approximately 215 other 2020-21 Schweitzer Fellows working at program sites around the U.S. Upon completion of their Fellowship year, the 2020-21 Alabama Schweitzer Fellows will become Schweitzer Fellows for Life and join a vibrant network of more than 3,500 Schweitzer alumni who are committed to addressing the health needs of underserved people throughout their careers. ASF of Alabama is accepting applications until February 1, 2021; MS1 and MS3 students are encouraged to apply for the 2021-22 cohort. More information is available at