By Jamie Pfaff

The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is a yearlong, 200 hour service commitment for graudate students interested in creating projects that fulfill unmet healthcare needs in their communities. As a Schweitzer Fellow, I am helping adolescents with sickle cell disease embrace their transition into adult healthcare by partnering with Camp John Marc and the Gill Center at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas for yearlong leadership programming.

IMG_7676 copyI meet monthly with teenagers ages 14 – 18 living with sickle cell disease to discuss general leadership, ways to take on leadership roles in the sickle cell community, and how they might advocate for themselves and others living with this chronic illness.  We have worked together to develop an advocacy video to help recruit counselors for a sickle cell summer camp held at Camp John Marc. I have seen many of these teenagers grow from shy, introverted adolescents to confident advocates over the course of this year. Self confidence bloomed in these teenagers as they came up with ways to help the greater community understand their illness and that this disease does not define who they are.

The structure and support the fellowship has provided me with one of the most relevant and educational experiences I could have imagined while in medical school. Each month I learn new ways these incredibly motivated and creative teenagers adapt to life with a chronic illness. They teach me about the daily reprecussions  of mutations in tiny molecules I have studied about in my textbooks and about the incredible resilience of the human spirit. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship has empowered me to embrace the humanistic side of medicine with full heart. I know I will be a more understanding, motivated, and compasssionate physician in the future because of this experience.

Empowerment and inclusion are vital aspects of education and youth development. As I continue to learn about the connections between education and medicine I believe in this project more strongly each meeting I attend with my teen group.