Future Health Leaders Find Their Voices

July 10, 2020
By: Amon Marstiller - Director, Communications

Pictured Above: Humanitarian Albert Schweitzer

A while back, a grantee came to us with a request --- could we help them elevate the voice of emerging leaders on important health issues? The grantee was the NC Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Founded in 1994, the program is one of 13 Schweitzer program sites across the U.S. dedicated to developing a pipeline of emerging professionals to address health disparities.

The program’s director Barbara Heffner believed three things. That because Fellows were working within communities across the state, they had both a perspective and opportunity to speak up on what they were experiencing first-hand. That by engaging Fellows in this effort, they’d be further developing skills in civic engagement that would benefit them as leaders in the long term. And that the ideal vehicle for this effort was the Op-Ed section of local newspapers.

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical at first. Not at the idea of elevating the voices of young people on important issues. That, I thought, was more than worthwhile and more than needed. I was more so struck by the dichotomy of engaging a generation raised on smartphones and apps built around limited character counts and short video clips to utilize long-form, print-based journalism as a vehicle for communication. In fact, I would have bet – perhaps naively so – that many of the students didn’t know what an Op-Ed was.

Any skepticism in the idea could not have been more misplaced. The initiative has flourished.

The Fellows have penned and published their unique perspectives in outlets across the state. From mental and oral health, to COVID-19 and racism in health care, they are raising awareness on some of the most important and timely issues of our day. And even when papers opt not to run pieces, the Fellows have found alternate venues, such as blogs, to feature their work.

The program has been keeping record of their writing here. I encourage you to read for yourself.

As it turns out, Barbara was indeed onto something. She knew that the Schweitzer Fellows had things to say. And she knew that editors would want to publish their words, and their subscribers would want to read them. And luckily for us, she knew she could engage her funding partner in finding a way to help it come together.

In response to the request, we developed an Op-Ed Field Guide which each class of Fellows receives as part of their orientation. We’ve also attended orientation sessions to supplement the toolkit with in-person training. But most importantly, we listened to – and trusted – our grantee.

The world we live in is getting more complicated by the day. It brings me hope, however, to know that we have grantees constantly looking for ways to incite positive change, and – in this case – mobilize a generation of young leaders willing to speak up for what they believe in.


About the Author

Amon Marstiller is the Blue Cross NC Foundation's Director, Communications. Read bio.