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Elesha Roberts

Student Rounds

Elesha Roberts earned a prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship.

Serving the Underserved

Schweitzer Fellow empowers a vulnerable community

Early in 2016, doctoral student Elesha Roberts became the College of Nursing and Health Innovation's first Schweitzer Fellow, an honor bestowed on outstanding graduate health care students around the country. Fellows are required to spend hundreds of hours addressing the health needs of underserved populations.

Roberts spent much of last year clocking these hours working with hypertensive elderly African-Americans in a San Antonio community where health care resources and savvy are in relatively short supply.

She conducted workshops on topics ranging from the rights of patients to probe doctors about the finer points of medicine to how eating and exercising with a partner can keep a person on a path toward optimal health.

"Elesha saw a problem that we may think we've addressed in acute care—assuming people will follow through at home—only to find out that in that community, the follow-through isn't happening at all," says Deborah Behan, a clinical associate professor of nursing who advises Roberts on her Schweitzer Fellowship projects. "We have to think about the walls of [medical] institutions where there is acute care and move out from there: How do we relate to people? How do we help them improve their health in their own communities?"

Roberts says the fellowship has sparked ideas for broadening her horizons as a health care provider. It has also transformed her into a researcher. She is now trying to determine how her work as a Schweitzer Fellow can become the catalyst for a full-fledged—and fully funded—scientific study.

"I can really see this going into other vulnerable communities," says Roberts, a registered nurse with 13 years' experience and a clinical assistant professor of nursing at the University of Texas San Antonio Health Center. "I've put together a template that can easily be adapted."