The Project of Two Alabama Schweitzer Fellows for Life Find Relevancy in the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic


2017 Alabama Schweitzer Fellows William Gafford and Newton Tinsley completed their project working with UnlessU, a nonprofit that focuses on continuing education, life skills, and social skills for people with intellectual disabilities in Birmingham, AL. William and Newton developed a program for UnlessU students that focused on their physical fitness and hygiene skills. Their students were provided with hands-on instruction about hand hygiene using the Glo-Germ product. William and Newton found success with their project; the students’ hands were 61.6% cleaner after receiving the hand hygiene instruction.

With current conversations about hand hygiene becoming more prominent due to the coronavirus pandemic, William and Newton’s project and the results from it are more relevant than ever before. We recently spoke with both of the Samford University School of Nursing graduates about their lives and work post-Fellowship, hand hygiene, and how others can best support nurses/medical workers right now.

Q&A with William and Newton 

Q: Where are you currently working and living?

W: I work at Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama.

N: I am currently living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and working at Northport Regional Medical Center as a Nurse Anesthetist. 

Q: What is your current role or occupation?

W:  I am a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) for the hospital. I provide anesthesia for outpatient surgery, obstetric services, and emergency surgeries. 

N:  In my current position I provide anesthesia for a variety of different types of surgeries and outpatient procedures, including orthopedic procedures, endoscopic procedures, obstetric services, robotic procedures, and general surgery services.

Q: What type of impact has your Fellowship experience has on your current work? How have you been able to utilize the skills and lessons learned in your current work?

W:  Being an ASF Fellow has really helped me to advocate for my patients. Expectations and production pressures in a fast paced operating room can be high, but the ASF Fellowship has helped me to put my patient(s) first.

N:  The fellowship taught me to listen carefully to the needs of vulnerable communities, stay focused and goal oriented, and helped me to demonstrate project outcomes. This is very useful in my job today. As a healthcare provider, we are constantly evaluating and formulating evidence-based practices that are formulated and extrapolated from data. The fellowship gave me a wonderful background, necessary skills, and a desire to seek out opportunities to be a part of different projects within my anesthesia department. As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), I care daily for vulnerable communities; think about an anesthetic, [which is administered when a patient is most vulnerable]. Under anesthesia, you are totally unable to advocate for yourself and completely in the hands of your anesthetic provider. This fellowship helped to teach me skills in order to best provide and advocate for this community and helped strengthen my skills as a leader and communicator. I have learned so many valuable lessons about community engagement and responsibility through my involvement with ASF.

Q: Your project focused on increasing hygiene skills among people with intellectual disabilities. What are the lessons learned from planning and implementing this project that could be applicable to building hand hygiene programs to help combat COVID-19?

N:  One aspect of our project was using a tool called “glo-germ.” This allowed us to provide a visual representation to the students the effect of proper hand washing on decreasing the level of bacteria on the surface of a person’s hands. Using this “glo-germ” lotion and a black light, you are able to represent a hand pre-washing that is full of bacteria; post proper washing, you are able to show that person’s hand with a remarkable decrease in bacteria specimen represented on the surface of their hands. For this particular population at UnlessU visual learning is vital, and I believe for most people in general,  visual representation of a topic can help with understanding and solidifying the importance of such [a] topic. That is why I believe “glow-germ” would be a useful tool in teaching the general population the importance of proper hand-washing, either through direct demonstrations of the tool or via video (i.e. YouTube) demonstrations.”

W:  Even before it was mandatory to wear masks at work, I was advocating and encouraging others to take COVID-19 precautions seriously. I am cautious with limiting/minimizing the spread of  germs (double-gloving, frequent hand washing) at work and at home. Like Newton said, I think glow-germ would be valuable for healthcare workers to focus on this important procedure (hand washing) that is often done improperly.

Q: What are the best ways to support nurses and nursing students during this pandemic?

W: The community has been amazing at supporting nurses by providing free meals/services and by also showing us lots of love and encouragement. The most important way to support healthcare workers is by being careful and limiting the spread through social distancing.

N: I have been so encouraged by and truly overcome by the outpouring of support for essential workers of all kinds during this pandemic. The images from bigger cities, such as New York and [those] across Europe, of entire communities clapping for healthcare providers at particular times of the day has warmed my heart. I know these expressions of support seem minimal, but they really do lift our spirits and help to remind us why we entered this wonderful field called nursing! We are here to care for people in their most vulnerable state. Also, another way to show support to these essential workers is by following the scientific recommendation provided by our nation’s leaders, such as social distancing. This is a silent yet vital way everyone can do their part to help control this pandemic.

Q: What is a piece of advice you have for our outgoing 2019 Fellow class and/or our incoming 2020 class about completing their Fellowship?

W: If you are an Albert Schweitzer Fellow now, you will ALWAYS be an advocate for vulnerable populations and others. Constantly be on the lookout for ways to help out and love people and treat them as you would treat yourself! N: The biggest piece of advice I would leave the outgoing and incoming ASF class is actually a quote from Dr. Schweitzer himself and it reads: “reverence for life does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone … it demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others.” This can be applicable to everyone, especially during this difficult time.