A optometry sudent covers a young students right eye and performs an eye exam.
A Berkeley Optometry student performs an eye exam on a student at the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland.

Now in its seventh year in the Bay Area, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship has consistently chosen UC Berkeley health-focused graduate students to provide health care to the medically underserved.

The fellowship is in honor of Albert Schweitzer, a medical doctor originally from Germany who devoted his life to caring for the underserved population in Gabon, Africa, in the early 20th century.

Berkeley Optometry student Laura Leis is one of the most recent fellows to complete the Schweitzer year-long fellowship.

Working with the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Leis offered eye screenings to 181 of the students at the school who may not otherwise have had access to eye exams. “It was important to me to create a sustainable model for the screening program that could be continued annually for the incoming student classes in Oakland,” said Leis.

Those initial screenings, conducted by students at UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry overseen by Optometry clinicians, led to 31 Oakland youth receiving eyeglasses.

“The Schweitzer Fellowship allows these optometry students to provide services and care to underserved populations in our backyard who might not otherwise receive vision care,” said Sharon Joyce, the Assistant Dean at the School of Optometry.

Since it began in 1940, the fellowship has selected nearly 2,500 graduate students to participate in the program, which awards participants a $2,000 stipend to supplement the cost of providing healthcare to underserved populations through an existing organization. Since its extension to the Bay Area in 2007, the fellowship has selected 13 graduate students from Berkeley to participate.

A lasting benefit of the Schweitzer Fellowship is the ever-expanding network of past fellows who can share and learn from their personal experiences, said Dale Ogar, Director of the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program.

Because the Schweitzer fellowship accepts graduate students from a range of graduate programs – not only health-related programs – a network of fellows from varied backgrounds helps those going through the program to solve issues they might not commonly deal with. “This fellowship gives them more perspective from people outside of their individual disciplines. They help each other tremendously,” said Ogar.

Although the deadline to the application to Schweitzer Fellowship is in April, it is never too early to start thinking about potential project ideas.

For more information go to the Bay Area Schweitzer Fellowship website.