If you ask Dr. Lachlan Forrow ’78 about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, you’re likely to hear an enthusiastic response about the late Nobel laureate’s extraordinary range of talents, from his work as a young theologian to his campaign against nuclear weapons near the end of his life. But it is Schweitzer’s most famous contribution — as a doctor, tending to underserved patients in Lambaréné, Gabon — that has helped to shape Forrow’s career.
Dr. Lachlan Forrow ’78, pictured with a portrait of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. (Courtesy Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center)
Forrow, a philosophy major at Princeton, traveled to Gabon in 1982, taking a break from his studies at Harvard Medical School to work for three months in the hospital that Schweitzer founded. The brief fellowship was a challenging experience that left a lasting impression.
Nearly a decade later, as board member of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Forrow helped launch a program for U.S. Schweitzer Fellows — aspiring medical professionals who would help to address unmet needs in American cities. In the last 18 years, the program’s annual cohort has grown from 12 fellows to 250, and Forrow, now president of the fellowship group, aims to double that number in the next five years.
“Schweitzer started his hospital in Lambaréné, but he said that everyone has his or her own Lambaréné,” Forrow said. “When they find it, it’s very fulfilling. … We’re trying to help people find their Lambaréné.”
The medical, nursing, and public-health students who apply for Schweitzer Fellowships don’t necessarily know much about the program’s namesake, but Schweitzer’s ideals of service and reverence for life resonate with them, according to Forrow. Fellows spend at least 200 hours in challenging service projects while juggling full workloads at school. Managing such an ambitious schedule, Forrow said, teaches the fellows that it is possible to continue this type of service throughout their professional lives.
Forrow’s own career provides an example of devotion to medicine and service, as Connie Buchanan ’78 noted when nominating her classmate for Tiger of the Week. In addition to his half-time position at the Schweitzer Fellowship, he continues to practice in his medical specialty, palliative care, and he teaches medical ethics to first-year students at Harvard Medical School. For 29 years, he has taken an active role in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Forrow also returns three times a year to the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné.
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