Monday June 25, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Saxtons River native Laurel Wickberg grew up wanting to become a pediatrician.

She recently developed a strong interest in elderly care and, now, she says she has no idea which medical field she will enter.

And though she has another few years at the University of Vermont College of Medicine to choose a specialty, as the recent recipient of an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship she will be able to spend the next year learning to effectively address the social factors that affect health, developing leadership skills and practicing the message of service championed by the physician-humanitarian the program is named after.

Albert Schweitzer was born in Germany in 1875 and eventually became a missionary in Africa, founding a clinic in Gabon.

Wickberg and eight of her medical school classmates named New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows will join roughly an additional 220 at 12 program sites throughout the country. On top of their regular academic responsibilities, all fellows will partner with local community-based organizations to develop and implement year-long mentored service projects aimed at improving health and well-being.

Wickberg said the fellowship work will be done in her free time. Applications for the fellowship, summarizing project ideas, were due earlier in the year.

Wickberg and classmate Benjamin Brown will create an enrichment program for individuals suffering from dementia at an adult daycare center in South Burlington.


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Wickberg said she and Brown will work with the Vermont State Nurses’ Association, to develop meaningful programs that will therapeutically benefit the center’s patients and improve their quality of life, as opposed to just keep them busy and entertained.

She said she asked a friend to come and play classical piano to several elderly people at the center that love classical music. She also mentioned finding someone fluent in Russian to communicate with a patient who speaks only that language. It was a way to keep the person engaged, she said.

Wickberg graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 2005 and received her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College four years later.

As part of being a Schweitzer fellow, she must develop a volunteer program at the center, organize lunchtime programs for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, and create more resources for each of the programs. She also will have to engage a corps of volunteers, including other medical students, and assist them in providing care for the elderly.

Her mother, Lynn Wickberg, said she was really pleased a few months ago when she learned about the honor bestowed her daughter.

"It’s wonderful to see what she and her classmate and colleagues are doing to make the world a better place," she said.

Laurel Wickberg said she will become a Fellow for Life once she completes her initial year and join a network of nearly 2,500 other Schweitzer alumni.

According to UVM’s College of Medicine, the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program has supported more than 350 Schweitzer Fellows in delivering almost 70,000 hours of service since 1996. The program is funded entirely through charitable donations and grants.