P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
Boston Community Doctor Teaches Teen Survival
By Peter Wortsman
Violence is a fact of contemporary life, killing increasing numbers of American inner-city youths. Health professionals around the country have declared violence a public health epidemic and are trying to do something about it.
"Anti-violence intervention can be taught," insists Peter Stringham'68, a Boston family practitioner and member of the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine. For the past 19 years, Dr. Stringham, who specializes in community pediatrics, has treated attitude as well as ailments at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
Rather than preach textbook solutions to his young patients and their parents, he taps the talents of a group of their peers, healthy teen-agers skilled in avoiding violent confrontation. Described by researchers as "non-violent problem solvers," the teen-agers are described by Dr. Stringham as "the great unsung American heroes." If these kids can do it, he suggests, why not you?
He first became aware of the severity of the problem after doing a review of death certificates over a five-year period, from 1975-80, in the working class neighborhood where he practices. He discovered, to his horror, that murder was the leading cause of death for people ages 1 through 40.
A past recipient of the "Clinician of the Year" Award from the Massachusetts League of Neighborhood Health Centers, Dr. Stringham interned at Harlem Hospital and worked for the Indian Health Service before arriving in Boston. He is active in such grass roots efforts as East Boston Neighbors Against Substance Abuse (he is a past chairman) and the Chicago-based Health Professionals Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan. He has written a supplement on conflict resolution for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Pediatrics and consulted for the Harvard Community Health Plan, helping the plan's foundation produce a series of television ads to promote conflict resolution and prevent battering.
By offering young people street-tested skills to get out of life-threatening situations, Dr. Stringham says he is merely "planting seeds of health, immunizing them with the wisdom of their peers."