|Shu Yang, SOM ’15, was awarded a Schweitzer Fellowship.|
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When Shu Yang, SOM ’15, was an undergraduate studying molecular biology, he was enlisted to work in a homeless shelter that was run by his Harvard classmates. That experience not only changed the course of his education, it could well change the lives of others.
Yang, who has just finished his first year of medical school, was recently awarded a Schweitzer Fellowship from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. The year-long fellowship, according to ASF President Lachlan Forrow, MD, “simultaneously promotes Schweitzer’s legacy and addresses a critical gap in today’s health care landscape by equipping emerging professionals with the tools to address not only critical health issues but also the social determinants of health.”
It would be hard to imagine a population whose health is more impacted by social determinants than the homeless. While volunteering at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, Yang was encouraged to not only serve the guests, but to talk with them. This was a life changing experience for him. It was during these discussions, free of social stigma, that Yang came to understand just how isolated the homeless guests were from the services they need. This was also when Yang realized that his love of science and his desire to serve were compatible with a career in medicine. He was drawn to UMass Medical School because of its mission-based focus on serving the underserved.
Through his Schweitzer Fellowship project, Yang proposes to help meet the medical needs of the homeless population in Worcester by establishing an evening foot clinic at the Greater Worcester Housing Connection (formerly the People in Peril/PIP shelter). In developing his fellowship proposal, Yang met with Erik Garcia, MD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health and medical director for the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project (HOAP), who helped him identify the need and with whom he will work to establish the clinic. Yang is hoping to synchronize hours when the foot care clinic and other health services are available at the shelter in order to optimize care referrals.
Yang also hopes that in addition to basic foot care, diabetes screenings and clean footwear, the clinic will provide a vehicle for connecting guests of the shelter with other local resources such as the Worcester HOAP.
Simply providing clean shoes and socks will have an immediate medical impact, noted Yang. “A homeless person often has no good shoes, no good socks. Weather conditions can lead to frostbite and infections that have an adverse effect on overall health.” He also hopes that the clinic will foster trusting relationships between the homeless and health care providers in the Worcester community.
“Tending to someone’s feet is a very personal interaction and changes the dynamic between provider and patient. By listening to their experiences, understanding their fears, it is possible to build a trusting relationship,” said Yang. If trust is established through such interactions, it might be possible to change health outcomes for a population that is among the most vulnerable.
For additional information about the Schweitzer Fellowship program, visit their website.
Shu Yang, SOM ’15, joins a growing list of UMMS students