Auburn University pharmacy students use Schweitzer Fellowship to reach underserved in Alabama

Article body

A pair of Harrison School of Pharmacy students are teaming up to help those in need in Lee County. Adam Archer and Carl Okerberg, both members of the pharmacy class of 2020, have initiated a program to increase vaccination rates and address barriers to medication access and adherence.

Working through the Mercy Medical Clinic, a free and charitable clinic for the underserved located in Auburn, the pair will focus on introducing vaccine services and helping find resources and eliminate barriers for their patients in affording medications to improve health outcomes for the vulnerable population it serves.

Still in the early stages of implementing the program, the efforts of Archer and Okerberg have not gone unnoticed as they were selected as two of just 15 Albert Schweitzer Fellows in the state of Alabama. Schweitzer Fellows develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities. Each project is implemented in collaboration with a community-based health and/or social service organization.

“The Schweitzer Fellowship is a program which allows current students of any health profession to create a service project to assist the underserved and needy in their local area,” said Archer. “The program assists the students in developing the overall structure and implementation of their projects, while also bringing together motivated students from different health care fields in an interprofessional format.”

Okerberg initially came across the fellowship after communicating with another student as part of a national organization. After doing some further research, he knew this was something he wanted to pursue.

“Through national involvement in professional organizations, I found myself communicating with a University of Southern California student whose email signature included that she was a Schweitzer Fellow for Life,” said Okerberg. “The work of Paul Farmer today and Albert Schweitzer before him has had a profound influence on my professional philosophy, so I recognized Schweitzer's name and proceeded to ask what that meant. In doing so, I happily discovered the fellowship and that a Birmingham chapter had formed in recent years.

“Given my background in and passion for public health, I instantly knew being part of the fellowship offered both an amazing service-learning experience and a great opportunity to promote positive change, and I absolutely had to apply.”

When the pair teamed up, they started out by asking what a pharmacist does best in the health care world, particularly when it comes to addressing the needs of the underserved. The brainstorming eventually led them to Mercy Medical Clinic.

“From there I began working with Dr. Jeanna Sewell, a pharmacy faculty member practicing ambulatory care at Mercy, and Laura Bell, the executive director at Mercy, to identify their needs,” said Okerberg. “The inspiration for the project ultimately came out of these preliminary conversations and the excited encouragement from everyone involved.”

The project has a few different layers to address current needs of the patient population. The first is to create a vaccination service for Mercy, a service that currently is not offered. The hope is to offer free or discounted vaccinations to the uninsured patients who are the most in need of them. The second step is to increase medication access for current patients, potentially expanding the dispensing capabilities of Mercy and increase the availability of needed drugs.

“Being able to serve my community at this level while still in school has honestly been a dream come true for me,” said Archer. “The main reason I decided to become a pharmacist was to be able to help make a difference in people’s lives. I am extremely thrilled to be able to serve my community by creating something that could help improve the health care of someone who may need it most.”

For Okerberg, the experience with Mercy has made a significant impact on him and he is looking forward to making an impact in people’s lives.

“To me, a key component of living a big life is to be connected and invested in the community. I have been a member of the Auburn community as a student for a while now, and, like many other students around town, I have witnessed time after time the volunteering hearts at Mercy improve the health of community members when they are in need,” said Okerberg. “It's an honor to join such a caring team that has such a meaningful impact. Right now, in the beginning of my fellowship year, I feel a sense of great excitement and purpose when I open the door into the waiting room at Mercy.”

Related Media

Related Links

Auburn University's Harrison College of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master's in pharmaceutical sciences. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit the Harrison College of Pharmacy website.