Schweitzer Fellowship Recipient Gabriela Aitken

Improving the Spanish-speaking patient experience

Named in honor of famed humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the fellowship program encourages students to design and implement a project that addresses an unmet community health need. Fellowship recipients must partner with an existing organization and commit at least 200 service hours to their project—on top of their already heavy school workloads. This year, fourth-year medical student Gabriela Aitken was a recipient of a Schweitzer fellowship.

Tell me about your research.

As a Schweitzer Fellow, I will focus on increasing Spanish-speaking patient comprehension and healthcare plan adherence. I will create an individualized yet universally replicable teach-back tool and initiate teach-back sessions after medical encounters at the Loyola Access to Care Clinic. My hope is that these one-on-one sessions will improve health literacy while helping low-income, uninsured patients feel supported and empowered to take control of their health. Though these sessions will be available for all patients, I plan to target our uncontrolled diabetics, as they are a vulnerable population that I believe would benefit greatly from my teach-back program.


In what ways do you feel like earning a Schweitzer Fellowship will impact your career?

Being a part of the Schweitzer Fellowship has reminded me of the values that drew me to a career as a physician, most notably a desire to use my passion for medicine to serve others. Through my work at the Access to Care Clinic, I discovered my interest in quality improvement. As a fellow, I will learn about the development, implementation, and sustainability of a quality improvement initiative. These are valuable skills that I will take with me to residency, during which I hope to work on projects focused on quality improvement and safety of surgical procedures and techniques.


What drew you to work in this health field, as well as working with Access to Care?

Having spent my childhood in Bogota, Colombia, I sought to use my fluency in Spanish to honor my commitment to service by working with the Latino community as a medical student. I started volunteering as a Spanish interpreter at the Access to Care Clinic as a brand new M1 in August 2015. Throughout the past 3 years, my commitment to this community has grown, and I have engaged in various projects at the clinic in hopes of bettering the quality of medical care that our patients receive. For example, I created and established a Spanish interpreter certification program for medical students with the goal of providing our patients with professional interpretation. These interests are what inspired me to apply for the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program and to create my teach-back program.