Building student involvement, fostering civic engagement and enhancing community service to advance public health. 

Reflections from Nine Student Leaders on the Schweitzer Leadership Conference

The Depts. of Public Health and Student Affairs offered Scholarships for nine rocking D20 and D21 student leaders to attend the Spark Event! Their reflections will open your mind to some new ideas in leadership and dentistry. Take a read!

Katherine Ynsinare, D21

On October 28, 2017, a group of fellow classmates and I were able to attend the Spark Leadership Conference held by the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program. What I found to be most interesting was a breakout session titled, “Working in global settings: Balancing cultural beliefs with care.” During this session, the speakers discussed how the importance of respecting and working within cultural beliefs and communities in global health is frequently left behind. They discussed strategies practitioners can use to provide culturally sensitive care, while still improving health outcomes. One of the speakers talked about his experience working with a community in Nicaragua. On his very first visit to the community, all he did was gather information and simply talked to community members. No action was taken. The purpose for this was to first develop a relationship with the community and find what their needs were. The subsequent visits began putting into action their plans to combat the dental decay children had as early as 1st grade. One strategy his team used to make their work sustainable in such community was not only applying fluoride varnish on the children during their visit but also teaching pre-school teachers how to do so. This way the teachers would be responsible for applying the varnish for the recommended 4 times per year.

Additionally, the toothbrush holders that were brought to the community were discovered, at subsequent visits, as not being used. What was remarkable about this was that it motivated the speaker to lead a community discussion regarding why the toothbrush holders were not being used. As a result, the community members agreed among themselves to have each school design a toothbrush holder and a contest was made from this. Allowing the students to use their creativity and partake in this allowed the strengths of the community members to become recognized and used. Most importantly was respect for the capacity of the community and this allows for an admiration for their culture. The process also proved just how unbelievably resourceful such communities are.

Alicia Kim D20

The Albert Schweitzer Leadership Conference was an incredible opportunity where we stepped out of the dental school bubble to learn about and discuss current issues and innovations among the health professions. While it is easy to remain wrapped up solely in our academic responsibilities, the conference offered insight into how the leaders in our field are giving back to the community. With breakout sessions that focused on topics from interdisciplinary care to global health, and riveting keynote speakers who spoke about the Flint Water Crisis, racial discrimination in the criminal legal system, and creating new models for effective health care, the conference was a chance for us to think about real solutions to very real problems in our society. While we may learn within the walls of lecture halls and clinics, we need to broaden our perspectives and be aware of patients who consistently fall through the cracks created by prejudice, stigma, and legislation. The entire day served as a compelling reminder to remain cognizant and informed of how health professionals can combat these critical issues, and it was also empowering to learn the extent of the difference we can make in our careers.

Kristin Bradley, D20

The Schweitzer Leadership Conference was an inspiring day of engaging with people dedicated to improving healthcare and building stronger communities. One of the themes that reappeared throughout the day was the idea of “Health in All Policies,” which means considering how laws and regulations can have an impact on the health of the people in that jurisdiction. For example, a person who doesn’t drive might be unable to leave their neighborhood, which could lead to stress and poor health outcomes. This means that they might be reliant on public transportation, so transportation policy would have an impact on their health. This also means that an ideal health care system for that individual should take into account that access to reliable transportation is major concern in their life.

Health impacts should also be considered with policies concerning the criminal legal system. Individuals may be held in jail pre-trial due to inability to make bail, which may cause them to lose their job, benefits, housing, and custody of their children. Current plans aimed at improving health and criminal justice call for preventing the shackling of incarcerated women during labor, removing the stigma about mental health, and promoting dialog between the public and the police departments.

As clinicians, it will be important to take into account all of the factors that can affect a patient’s health, not just the signs and symptoms we see or hear about when the patient is in our chair. To that end, it is possible to rethink the way healthcare is delivered and consider innovative approaches such as working in an interdisciplinary team or embracing teledentistry. It will also be important to use our position as community leaders to advocate for policies that can improve health outcomes for members of our community.

 Vendita Correia, D20

The Schweitzer Leadership Conference was an incredible opportunity to hear from speakers and organizations dedicated to improving health care disparities and outcomes. Through various breakout sessions students were engaged in conversations regarding healthcare inequalities, structure, and ways for improvement. It was inspiring to attend the conference with Tufts classmates, who I know will return to school, continue some of the conversations, and implement ideas raised during the conference. This meeting identified many marginalized groups who often experience suboptimal care. During a breakout session on homeless youth in Boston, it was encouraging to learn that Tufts made one of the first strides to improve healthcare for homeless youth through the Project Bridge Organization. The conference made me appreciate being a student at a place like Tufts that is working toward developing leaders who will not only be advocates for health care improvements but also social change. The Schweitzer Leadership Conference provided me with an increasing motivation to work toward addressing some of the problems that permeate in the surrounding communities.

Jamie Abraham, D21

I am still digesting all of the great information and innovation that was presented at the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Conference. It was fascinating to learn about the efforts of young people around the country who are committed to improving the health of their communities. I was very impressed by the innovation of individuals who are working to address the challenges our health care system is experiencing, and I know the dental profession can be part of such innovative solutions.

In particular, a health care practice known as Iora Health has taken patient centered care to another level by truly addressing the social determinants of health, rather than jumping right to treatment. A patient with a fear of the bus will not be able to take control of her health, regardless of doctor intervention, because she will not be able to travel to work consistently to earn a paycheck, she will not visit friends for social interaction, she will not be able to go to the grocery store to purchase healthy food, and so on. This health care practice teaches patients skills, and helps patients address what is most important to them, first. This builds a strong relationship, empowers the patient, and emphasizes prevention, all of which can produce better health outcomes.

I would love to see dentistry incorporated into this model, because dental health is closely integrated to the aforementioned social determinants, and many more. In an ideal world, I envision all practices like Iora Health; they will require and thrive on interprofessional collaboration and the patient will be the core focus. They will emphasize prevention, empower the patients through education to take control of their health, and will provide excellent treatment when needed.

The real challenge to this type of practice is navigating the current health care system and payment of health care. Iora Health uses a lump sum fee rather than transactional care. This way, the health care team can determine how to best proportionate funds depending on the needs of an individual. This is the area I need to research more so I can better understand the efficacy and sustainability of the model, and determine how I can create my own future practice. This conference certainly encouraged “out of the box” thinking, and I am grateful to have attended.

DeVonte Johnson, D21

The Schweitzer Leadership Conference was an amazing experience! The event was intimate yet impactful. A vast majority of the attendees were a part of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program. Through casual conversations, I was able to hear about some of their projects they were working on that range from community garden initiatives to oral health awareness campaigns. To top off the great event, we receive tremendous insight on the future of healthcare from some radical leaders in the industry. I am forever grateful for this opportunity to attend the Schweitzer Leadership Conference and recommend my fellow Tufts dental family to apply next year.

Melody Chou, D19

The 2017 Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) Leadership Conference on “Mosaics: Building More Resilient Communities” was an empowering opportunity to learn from those making significant impact within the health sector. Instead of incremental improvements, we were encouraged to innovate with ideas that were beyond conventional constructs. The ASF conference sparked so many important questions like, how can we make interdisciplinary models more integrated? How can we solve the opioid crisis alongside patients? How do we create shared values in partnerships?  The experience was not only thought provoking, but it also challenged us to become active change agents for those who are in the most need.

Brent Mullen, D20

The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship SPARK! Leadership Conference was an incredible event. It surrounded me with people that share the same passion and dreams and encouraged me to not only be a dental student but to continue to strive to make a difference in the community. It ignited my energy to continue with the development of my project for the fellowship. I learned an idea at the conference that will stick with me forever and will help me to try to understand the situation of vulnerable populations. It follows:  individuals in a vulnerable population have a life that can be compared to a ball of yarn. When one string becomes loose, the whole ball easily can unravel. I have thought about that idea a lot since the conference and will help me to better understand the circumstance while I work to improve these people’s lives.

Jason Cummins, D21

Attending the Spark Conference as a first-year dental student was remarkable. I was able to participate in workshops which opened my mind to new ideas and how much more I can do with my dental career.

Topics such as, “Improving Patient Outcomes through Interdisciplinary Care” taught us how we could look at a patient’s health more holistically, working with our colleagues in other disciplines to make sure our patient is taken care of.  The question on our mind should be, “How are we going to change health care as a team?”

“Effective Strategies for Outreach Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness,” was another session that was eye-opening, as I am new to Boston and Massachusetts it was great to be educated on the organizations which are working with our homeless adolescents and what is being done to take care of them especially about their health.

As a developing leader, it is never too early to know how to market yourself, and this presentation gave strategies on branding and preparing for the future. Overall, the entire conference had an excellent impact and broadened my mind.  Hearing the ideas from some of the Fellows of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, learning from various speakers, and being in the atmosphere of people who want to change the face of healthcare was more than what I expected.  This conference is aligned perfectly with the theme “Improving Health, Developing Leaders and Creating Change.”



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