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OU-HCOM Schweitzer Fellow aims to reduce addiction in southeastern Ohio

By Caroline Dreyer

(ATHENS, Ohio – April 25, 2013)The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services reports that during the last two decades, the number of Ohioans seeking treatment for opiate addiction has more than tripled. Between 2004 and 2008, Athens County witnessed a higher number of deaths than the state average per 100,000 residents.

Moved by this alarming statistic, Bridget Schoeny, a medical student and Family Medicine primary care associate at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM), set out to positively impact the degree to which drug addiction was affecting her southeastern Ohio neighborhood.

Schoeny was one of three OU-HCOM students chosen for The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) in 2012. Each year, ASF selects and supports nationally more than 250 new university graduate school students to follow in Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s footsteps of improving the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.  Schoeny, who will graduate on May 11 with her doctoral degree in osteopathic medicine, is the 2013 OU-HCOM Student D.O. of the Year.

Every Schweitzer Fellow partners with a community-based organization to identify an unmet health need, design a year-long, 200-hour service project with a demonstrable impact on that need, and bring that project from idea to implementation, all on top of his or her usual academic responsibilities.

With the understanding that children exposed to substance abuse at home are at risk for developing drug dependency later in life, she had hoped to stop the cycle of addiction in her community before it started. As a part of her fellowship, Schoeny is working with Rising Appalachian Warriors (RAW) and Rural Action to develop a year of adventure recreation and sustainable living programming for children, ages eight through 12, whose lives have been directly affected by substance abuse at home.

In August, Schoeny held a week-long outdoor recreation/education summer camp for 17 local children in her Millfield, Ohio home. When the week was over, she was exhausted, but hopeful of the impact the camp had on the children’s lives. “By introducing these children to adult mentors, alternative coping strategies, a supportive peer group and a positive environment, this initiative aims to stop the cycle of addiction, empower southeastern Ohio youth and encourage them to live healthy, happy lives,” Schoeny explained.

With the help of a collaborative team of local agencies including Solid Ground Farm, Rising Appalachian Warriors, Rural Action, Big Brothers Big Sisters and On the Ball Fitness, these children will continue to have after-school get-togethers where they can participate in art and gardening projects, natural building projects, plant walks, cooking sessions, movie watching, talent shows and more.

In addition, Schoeny’s project offers a group of 16 OU-HCOM students the opportunity to participate in a six-part interactive lecture series, Addiction 101, related to the holistic management of addiction in a primary care setting.

“By offering several physician, and healthcare professional, moderated discussion groups related to the topics of addiction and recovery, I was able to formally offer willing medical students the much needed opportunity to further their training and engage in a conversation about this very relevant public health issue,” Schoeny said.

After Schoeny graduates in May, she will begin a family medicine residency at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, and plans to become a primary care physician in southeastern Ohio.

As she looks back on her year as a Schweitzer Fellow, Schoeny sees herself as just one of many people who are reaching out to at-risk children.

 “Through all the hours spent with the kids in this program, I had this image of reaching my hand out to someone who’d fallen down. I also think of all the people in this community with their hands outstretched to these children,” Schoeny said. “Whatever progress these kids make, from where they are now to where they end up, it will be the sum of their own efforts along with all of these outstretched hands, and that gives me hope. It makes it seem that I can have an impact, even if all I could offer up was a one-week summer camp and a bowling party.”

Launched in September, 2010, with major funding from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, the Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellows Program is one of thirteen U.S. Schweitzer program sites working to address health disparities by developing Leaders in Service. Graduate and professional students from Ohio University, Ohio State University and other Columbus area colleges and universities are chosen each year for the Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellowship. The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) at OU-HCOM was responsible for bringing the Schweitzer Fellowship to Ohio University.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016