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Inspired by Schweitzer’s ‘reverence for life,’ Melanie Dubois looks toward career in global health

Fourth-year student returns home to graduate after three-month Schweitzer Fellowship in Africa

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

May 16, 2016
  Melanie Dubois with fellow members of the pediatrics care team at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lamberéné, Gabon.
 

Melanie Dubois with fellow members of the pediatrics care team at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon.

When medical student Melanie Dubois was exploring options for an international clinical experience prior to residency, she discovered that the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in Lambaréné, Gabon, was a unique fit for her interest in pediatric infectious disease and her fluency in French. Established in 1979, the highly competitive Lambaréné Fellowship selects senior medical students to serve as junior physicians in pediatrics or internal medicine rotations at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné. For Dubois, the fellowship consisted of a three-month, French-­speaking clinical immersion in pediatrics at the hospital founded by physician-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer in 1913.

“It has been a great learning experience as a fourth-­year medical student, particularly with exposure to tropical diseases that are rarely seen in the United States,” said Dubois. “Due to limited resources, I’ve learned to improve my physical exam skills and rely less on laboratory tests. In this region highly endemic for malaria, I’ve cared for children with severe anemia and malaria, often requiring blood transfusions.”

In July, when Dubois begins her residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Montefiore in the Bronx, her fellowship experience will serve as a strong foundation for this next phase of her career. The Schweitzer Fellowship allowed Dubois to serve as a junior physician and to operate as part of a care team, much as she will as a resident.

A typical day at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital for Dubois began with inpatient rounds in the pediatrics ward as a member of a team that included the pediatrics chief, a resident and nursing staff; and transitioned to outpatient consultations and care followed by admitting new patients and following up on lab results. She  treated pediatric patients with diseases ranging from malaria to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. She also assisted with newborn exams in the maternity ward and provided education for mothers.

“I’ve witnessed a great need for education for mothers, particularly regarding breastfeeding and prevention of maternal­-child transmission of HIV,” said Dubois. “I have also worked to provide education for parents of children with sickle cell disease, particularly those that are newly diagnosed with hemoglobin electrophoresis. There is a lack of newborn screening for sickle cell disease in Gabon, leading to late diagnosis and an increased risk for complications at a young age.”

  In addition to providing care in the pediatrics ward at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, Dubois participated in its maternal-child health program, which took her into surrounding villages.
 

In addition to providing care in the pediatrics ward of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, Dubois participated in its maternal-child health program, which took her into surrounding villages.

Dubois had an opportunity to participate in the maternal-child health program of the Schweitzer hospital, which took her into surrounding villages to provide vaccinations, education and medical care to children and mothers.

“These rural communities often have the greatest need for medical care, due to poverty and limited access to health care. Inspired by Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of ‘reverence for life,’ I hope to continue to provide health care to underserved communities and become involved in public health interventions in the future.” said Dubois.

Now that she has completed her fellowship, Dubois will join her Lambaréné and U.S. Schweitzer Fellow alums in the Fellows for Life network, committed to improving the health of their communities throughout their careers. 

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