Our collective mission to advance the health of the public has been fundamental to the advancement and prosperity of families in our region. In 2015, Southwestern Medical Foundation joined with the Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellowship Program (ASF) to bring the innovative service and leadership program to medical and graduate students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 2021 Albert Schweitzer Fellow, Maishara Muquith is working to build on this service to the community through her fellowship project to close the gap on health disparities in Dallas.
The Schweitzer Fellowship aims to address local health disparities and the social determinants of health while developing future leaders. It was coined as a nod to the renowned physician-humanitarian and health care hero, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who continues to inspire the legacy of community service through health care.
We had the opportunity to discuss the inspiring work of some of this year’s DFW Albert Schweitzer Fellows, who continue the spirit of Dr. Albert Schweitzer by investing in our region’s health.
An Interview with Maishara Muquith: Closing the Gap on Health Disparities in Dallas
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what has led up to this moment in your career?
A: As a first-generation immigrant from Bangladesh, I have always been passionate about alleviating health disparities. This motivated me to pursue a Sociology minor at Rice University, where I focused mainly on classes on social determinants of health. These courses taught me to appreciate health care from a more holistic perspective — one that combines biomedicine with social entrepreneurship. To put my classroom lessons into practice, I interned at BakerRipley, a non-profit dedicated to serving low-income neighborhoods in Houston. I worked with the Program Director of BakerRipley to expand mental and preventive health care services in these communities. This was one of my most meaningful experiences during college: working collaboratively with community members to make a direct and long-lasting impact. When I came to medical school, I wanted to continue volunteering, especially as an avenue to learn about Dallas and its population needs. So, I applied to the Patient Navigator Program, a prior Schweitzer service project which connects people experiencing homelessness to resources such as legal, mental health, housing, and health care services. As I worked with my team to accomplish our client’s goals, I realized that the client helped me just as much as we helped her, if not more so. She taught me to be positive, to be grateful, and above all, to be humble. My involvement with the Patient Navigator Program inspired me to apply to the Schweitzer Fellowship.
I wanted to not only help more people in similar situations as my clients, but also create service opportunities for my peers so they can experience the joy and humility of community service.Maishara Muquith
Q: What is the main goal of your project?
A: My project will address health disparities in Dallas County, by expanding health care access to the uninsured and underinsured population in West Dallas and Oak Cliff, where one-third of families have incomes below the poverty line.
This will be done through the establishment of a student-run free clinic that provides after-work hour services, specifically primary and preventive care, at Brother Bill’s Helping Hands. While conducting a needs assessment, I realized that this population has a particularly high diabetes rate with uncontrolled blood sugar. As a result, I will also be implementing the Diabetes Self-Management Intervention program at Brother Bill’s. This will be a longitudinal, medical student-led initiative to empower diabetic patients in underserved communities in Dallas to achieve self-efficacy in controlling their blood glucose. Students will work with patients to provide one-on-one lessons on chronic diabetes management. In addition, they will help patients set and achieve SMART goals related to their condition and help patients navigate the health care system. I am really excited about this project because I get to work closely with a group of extremely dedicated and talented medical students to serve the community!
Q: What does being an Albert Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?
A: The Albert Schweitzer fellowship is an incredible opportunity for me to immerse myself in the service of my community. I am humbled to work with an inspiring cohort of fellows to contribute meaningfully to society through this program. The Schweitzer fellowship has allowed me to build upon my leadership skills to create change that will be sustainable. In essence, this fellowship encapsulates both medicine and the humanities as we seek to balance innovations in health care with the individual cultures and needs of the communities we serve.
Q: What role do you think philanthropy plays in supporting research and innovation?
A: Philanthropy drives research and innovation by allowing for opportunities for creativity. Research and innovation can be risky as they seek to answer novel hypotheses or develop new ideas.
Philanthropy allows entrepreneurs and researchers to take the “leap of faith” and explore their ideas through funding.Maishara Muquith
Ultimately, this results in meaningful contributions to society through knowledge production or program development. For example, I am always inspired to see the multitude of programs that started because of the generosity of Albert Schweitzer.
The Legacy of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship
The philosophy that ASF champions aligns with the principles the Foundation has represented since its founding. Both ASF and the Foundation were established during World War II to develop leaders in service and inspire great citizenship through philanthropy. ASF was founded by Helene Bresslau Schweitzer and Albert Schweitzer in 1940. During the same time period, Southwestern Medical Foundation instituted the Ho Din Award.
Through the Ho Din Award, the highest honor bestowed on a graduating medical student from UT Southwestern, the Foundation has supported students who exemplify knowledge, understanding, and compassion. The Fellowship Program personifies these values, instilling a life-long philosophy of compassionate patient care, and paving the way for better health for all.
The Fellowship is open to students in eight local universities, including Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Texas Woman’s University, University of Dallas, University of Texas at Arlington, University of Texas at Dallas, and UT Southwestern Medical Center.