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Two graduate students named Schweitzer Fellows

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August 01, 2012

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A pair of students, Jeffrey Coots and Connie Lu, will spend the next year addressing healthcare disparities in underserved communities.One stu­dent is cre­ating a sup­port net­work to help Asian-​​Americans quit smoking. The other is working to ensure health­care remains a pri­ority for the for­merly incarcerated.

Both North­eastern stu­dents have received Albert Schweitzer Fel­low­ships, which sup­port research and out­reach addressing health­care dis­par­i­ties in under­served com­mu­ni­ties. The nation­wide pro­gram was estab­lished in 1992 and is based at Boston's Beth Israel Dea­coness Med­ical Center.

Jef­frey Coots, a School of Law stu­dent pur­suing a dual degree in public health at Tufts School of Med­i­cine, and Connie Lu, a fifth-​​year stu­dent in the School of Phar­macy, are two of 15 Boston-​​based Fel­lows, who hail from seven uni­ver­si­ties and rep­re­sent eight health and human ser­vice disciplines.

"It's a very strong net­work that sup­ports you, helps you when you get stuck and con­grat­u­lates you when you suc­ceed," Coots said.

He's using his Fel­low­ship to work with a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion called Span Inc., which helps former inmates suc­cess­fully rejoin their com­mu­ni­ties. Coots will work directly with the for­merly incar­cer­ated to ensure they have access to care, con­tinue get­ting med­ical treat­ments and are aware of the pre­cau­tions needed to pre­vent spreading infec­tions and diseases.

He noted that incar­cer­ated indi­vid­uals tend to be at much higher risk for acute med­ical prob­lems such as HIV, hepatitis and dia­betes. "For people just released from prison, health­care starts to get bumped down the list," Coots said. "It's some­thing they have on their mind, cer­tainly, but it's not a top pri­ority. They want to get a job, they want to recon­nect with family."

Lu is spending her year as a Schweitzer Fellow working with Neponset Health Center in Dorch­ester tack­ling addic­tion to smoking, par­tic­u­larly among the Asian-​​American community.

"The pop­u­la­tion in the Dorch­ester com­mu­nity is one without the highest access to health­care and smoking is such a hard habit to kick," Lu said, "so the more resources out there can affect people not just now, but into the future."

Lu said the Schweitzer pro­gram, which has 230 fel­lows in a dozen Amer­ican cities, is a pow­erful tool for trans­forming health­care. As she put it, "You're giving your all to who­ever you can help."

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