The first-ever Schweitzer Leadership Summit welcomed more than 60 graduate students and professionals from across the country to Tulsa earlier this month to learn how local leaders are improving health disparities and strengthening the Schweitzer Fellowship U.S. network.
The event was hosted November 2-4 by current and past Albert Schweitzer Fellows who saw an opportunity to bring their counterparts to Tulsa and expand the organization’s network of alumni through meaningful engagement.
The role of a Schweitzer Fellow
“Schweitzer Fellows and alumni are talented, passionate individuals who do ground-breaking work to address health disparities,” said Rachel Gold, director of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Tulsa chapter. “The goal of this leadership summit was to reinforce the energy, passion and spark that drove Fellows and alumni to the Schweitzer Fellowship in the first place, and that will continue to inspire them towards reaching their leadership goals.”
Schweitzer Fellows are competitively selected from graduate and professional degree programs statewide in traditional health-focused fields such as medicine, nursing, dentistry and public health as well as related fields including education, social work, law and the arts. Schweitzer Fellows gain knowledge and experience in innovative project design, leadership and community health by designing and implementing yearlong initiatives that address health disparities and social determinants of health such as poverty, the environment and education.
Past projects include a concept developed by University of Tulsa clinical psychology doctoral student Danielle Zanotti, a member of the inaugural class of Tulsa Schweitzer Fellows in 2016. Zanotti implemented a program to help veterans strengthen parenting skills and gain developmentally appropriate knowledge about what to expect from their children. The community site was The Coffee Bunker — a place in Tulsa where veterans can connect. After her year of Schweitzer service, Zanotti was selected for an internship at a VA hospital in Houston and plans to return to Oklahoma to pursue her career in mental health and community leadership.
A deep dive into Tulsa, growing as a leader
Other fellows such as Ekene Ezenwa, a third-year student in the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, focused their projects directly on health education. Ezenwa and her Schweitzer Fellow partner established a health leadership program called HEAL at Union Middle and High Schools, where they connected participants to health professions and supported them in designing health workshops for younger students.
“This fellowship is good for anyone who wants to do a deep dive into Tulsa and be able to not only help the community grow but also grow as a leader,” Ezenwa said. “The Schweitzer Fellowship provides participants with so many resources and so much guidance to do the things they want to do – design projects that the community really wants and needs, learn how to successfully write grant proposals and advocate in the community.”
Through careful planning, including a series of virtual meetings with counterparts around the country, the Schweitzer Fellowship Leadership Summit planning team, including seven Tulsa Schweitzer alumni and Gold, created an agenda that shone a spotlight on the status of health and social issues in Tulsa, the second-largest city in a state that ranks 48th, 49th or 50th in many national health measures. Gold says Tulsa was the perfect backdrop for Schweitzer Fellows and alumni to reunite and take a closer look at Tulsa efforts to reduce community health gaps while brainstorming new strategies for improving health outcomes.
“This conference reinforced the leadership skills of our planning team, refined their own career goals related to improving health and promoted self-awareness of their capabilities and visions for the local and national Schweitzer Fellowship communities,” Gold said.
Renewed inspiration from a Schweitzer alumna
Award-winning writer, skilled photographer and honored public health leader Leslie Hsu Oh served as keynote speaker for the event. As a 1997-98 alumna of the Schweitzer Fellowship at Harvard University School of Public Health, she founded the Hepatitis B Initiative to tackle the prevalence of hepatitis B in Boston’s Asian communities by offering free screenings and vaccinations. Her Schweitzer project is still in operation.
A special session led by Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and University of Tulsa President Gerard Clancy discussed health disparities in the city. Participant-led workshops at Tulsa’s 36 Degrees North entrepreneurial hub focused on approaching mental health through a social justice lens, gratitude as an act of leadership and transforming health care organizations through immigrant-friendly policy. Conference attendees visited facilities for Women in Recovery, the Take Control Initiative, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges and Community Health Connection. The weekend concluded with a tour of The Gathering Place.
Sponsors included the TU Oxley College of Health Sciences, Morningcrest Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, TYPROs, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and Trust Co. of Oklahoma.