Leading sustainable health care, social change

By Jimmy Creed, UAB School of Nursing —

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) students Katie Cassidy, RN, and Meghan Pattison, RN, have been selected by the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to its 2017-18 class.

Cassidy, in the School’s Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Specialty Track, and Pattison, in the Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty Track, join 14 other graduate students in the state from the UAB Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Public Health and the Collat School of Business, as well as Samford University, the University of Montevallo and Tuskegee University, in the second-ever class of Alabama Schweitzer Fellows. 

As Schweitzer Fellows, Cassidy and Pattison will spend the next year learning to effectively address the social factors that impact health and developing lifelong leadership skills while following the example set by the famed physician-humanitarian for whom their fellowships are named. 

Schweitzer Fellows also develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities. The projects are implemented in collaboration with a community-based health and/or social service organization. 

2017 18 Schweitzer Fellowship 1
Current MSN students Meghan Pattison and Katie Cassidy, center, join DNP student Deborah Bowers, right, as the first three from the UAB School of Nursing to receive Alabama Schweitzer Fellowships from the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.

Cassidy will work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association to develop a “Caregiver Connection” program through social media platforms that will make it easier for those caring for individuals with Muscular Dystrophy to communicate with each other. Cassidy is focused on increasing online access for caregivers to chat rooms, messages boards, special speakers and others who may have tips and suggestions to share.

“It is essentially an online support group,” Cassidy said. “The Muscular Dystrophy Association has tried to have in-person support and therapy sessions for parents in the past, but it has been difficult for them to attend, even for a few hours, because their children need full-time care. I will be helping these parents find ways to connect with each other.”

Cassidy will also work with caregivers who have expressed interest in transitioning into leadership roles with the program to keep it going after her fellowship year is complete. 

Pattison will work with United Way of Central Alabama’s “Help Me Grow,” an initiative designed to connect families of children with developmental disabilities to the resources they need such as speech therapy, behavioral therapy and parental counseling. “Help Me Grow” is a burgeoning program, and Pattison’s goal is to help expand it throughout Jefferson County and four other counties in Central Alabama. 

She will work at the United Way’s “Success By Six” educational sites in the targeted expansion areas. She will engage in classroom activities with children in Head Start and other preschool programs, and work to increase awareness and understanding of the role teachers can play in the early identification of children with developmental disabilities.

“Our ultimate goal is that the sooner we can identify children with developmental disabilities, the sooner we can get them the resources they need and the more likely it becomes that they will be successful in school down the road,” Pattison said. 

Schweitzer Fellowships also have an intensive leadership component built in to prepare the fellows to go on and inspire others to help improve the health of those who encounter barriers to care. Fellows work under the close guidance of community and academic mentors during their fellowship year.

It is a focus on leadership and shaping patient-centered health care that aligns closely with the mission of the UAB School of Nursing. 

“The Alabama Schweitzer Fellowship … lines up perfectly with everything the School stands for in terms of advocating for patients and pushing yourself as a nurse to be part of sustainable change.” — Meghan Pattison

“The Alabama Schweitzer Fellowship fits so well with what the UAB School of Nursing is about,” Pattison said. “It lines up perfectly with everything the School stands for in terms of advocating for patients and pushing yourself as a nurse to be part of sustainable change.

“It is a huge honor to be one of the initial recipients of this award in the School, and I have no doubt that number will continue to grow in the future because these fellowships reflect so closely the values and what they work so hard to instill in us as students at the UAB School of Nursing.”

UAB School of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student Deborah Bowers, MDiv, DMin, RN, FNP-C, was the School’s first Alabama Schweitzer Fellow, selected to the inaugural class for 2016-17. 

The 16 Alabama Fellows join approximately 240 other 2017-18 Schweitzer Fellows in the United States, as well as one in Lambaréné, Gabon, at The Albert Schweitzer Hospital founded by its namesake in 1913. Upon completion of their fellowship year, the 2017-18 Alabama Schweitzer Fellows become Schweitzer Fellows for Life, and join a network of more than 3,400 Schweitzer alumni skilled in, and committed to, addressing throughout their careers the health needs of underserved populations.

“It is a tremendous honor for us to have been selected,” Pattison said. “We are excited to work with people who are like-minded and share our same passion to see long-term, sustainable change in public health in Alabama and beyond, for the opportunity to be encouraged by the work other scholars are doing, and to get the incredible hands-on experience the Schweitzer Fellowship provides.”

“This is a talented and hard-working group of students who are passionate about improving health care and access to care,” said Kristin Boggs, director of the Alabama Chapter of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. “They’ve partnered with an impressive range of community-based groups that are working to help vulnerable people live healthier lives, and it will be very exciting to see how their projects progress over the next year.”

Cassidy and Pattison earned their Bachelor of Science in Niursing (BSN) degrees in 2015. Bowers earned her BSN in 1985 and her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in 2013.