A third-year medical student, Sara Schulwolf, has won a 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Physician Professional Advisory Committee.
USPHS works on the front lines of public health. Its medical, health and engineering professionals fight disease, conduct research, and care for patients in underserved communities across the nation and throughout the world.
“This is outstanding news. Congratulations to Sara,” shared Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine and interim UConn Health CEO.
“This award is a testament to the education provided by the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and to the high caliber of your students. We hope that this will encourage your faculty and students to continue their strong work in public health,” stated the award letter written by Toya Kelley, MD, LCDR, U.S. Public Health Service, Region 1 Coordinator of the USPHS Excellence in Public Health Award program.
Schulwolf was nominated by Dr. Melissa Held, associate dean of student affairs at the School of Medicine.
“Sara has been a role model and leader at the School of Medicine since day one of her arrival,” says Held. “She is an active participant on many committees and has been an advocate for vaccine education in the community. She was a natural choice for this award and we are so very proud of her!”
“I am very honored and humbled to receive this award. I was very touched and honored that Dr. Held thought of me,” said Schulwolf, 27, of West Hartford, who received her undergraduate degree from Amherst College. “I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved in a number of public health efforts while at UConn.”
She added: “Public health is something that I have been passionate about for as long as I’ve wanted to pursue medicine, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and support that I’ve received through UConn that have allowed me to turn my interests into action.”
Schulwolf co-founded Students for Accurate Vaccine Information (SAVI) at UConn School of Medicine with classmate Timothy Mason. SAVI is an interdisciplinary student organization dedicated to building COVID-19 vaccine confidence in the community through education, advocacy, and outreach.
“The group arose out of Timo and my shared observations that much of the vaccine hesitancy that we were observing stemmed from fear-based misinformation, and that oftentimes, an open discussion with a trusted provider could make a significant difference.”
To strike out vaccine hesitancy the SAVI program has already successfully hosted a “Health Equity in Covid-19” panel discussion with local community leaders, a co-sponsored workshop on addressing vaccine hesitancy in parents, designed a school lesson plan for use by health teachers in middle schools in partnership with the Hartford Health Educators organization (HHE), and a collaboration for gathering resources about vaccine safety for local houses of worship.
Outside of her SAVI program Schulwolf is also giving back further to improve public health. She has taught two semesters of middle school health classes with Hartford Health Educators, participated in UConn Urban Service Track/AHEC Scholars Program’s Home and Community Care, Covid-19 vaccination clinics and tele-surveillance projects, and also the City of Hartford’s door-to-door Covid vaccination campaign.
“I am excited to see how my classmates help to shape the future of health care,” says Schulwolf. “In terms of my career trajectory, I’m still very much undecided about specialty but know that public health will be an integral part of any field I enter.”
Schulwolf stresses: “Now more than ever, I think it is imperative for future health care leaders to work on building — or more specifically, rebuilding – trust in public health and in science. When we can establish that we are on the same team with the common goal of improving health outcomes, we can better work together to implement sustainable solutions.”