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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Spring 1996, Vol.16, No.2
P&S Students: Physicians for Social Responsibility

By Kristen Watson

To become more active participants in their community, several students have started a chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a national organization committed to social issues and community service.

All PSR members are committed to the belief that health care providers must attempt to prevent the diseases of society as well as cure them. As a national organization, PSR has taken an active stand against violence and won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. The new chapter at P&S is especially concerned about gun violence as a public health issue.

Although the group is called Physicians for Social Responsibility, PSR is known nationally for welcoming all health care professionals. The 50 members in the P&S chapter include students from the nursing and dental schools. The chapter is led by its founder, Andrew Coates'98, and the group's four other chairpersons, Catherine Petrou'98, Sean Mazer'98, Amanda Deligtisch'98, and Cheri Lowre'98. To reflect the group's membership, the leadership was expanded in January to include three first-year medical students and one nursing student on the steering committee.

Mr. Coates founded PSR last fall as a means for students to give something back to the Washington Heights area they call home while studying at P&S. For its first community service project, PSR assisted the NYPD's 33rd precinct in Washington Heights and the Goods for Guns Foundation with the annual gun exchange. PSR members met with leaders of major community groups in Washington Heights and started a grass roots outreach for the gun exchange program. The group distributed posters and fliers in the neighborhood to promote the drive and held a press conference at Bard Hall to kick off the December event. Dr. Meridith Sonnett, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, and Dr. Steven Miller, assistant professor of pediatrics, participated in the press conference by discussing the dangers of gun violence.

Approximately 25 to 30 guns were collected through the Goods for Guns drive, says Mr. Coates. He calls the drive a "strong success" and very beneficial to PSR in the long run, having earned the group some influential friends in the community along the way. Mr. Coates says important community leaders now recognize and accept PSR and are willing to cooperate with the group. That's in addition to the obvious-that accidents, suicides, and other gun incidents were avoided by getting the firearms off the streets.

"It has always been difficult to recruit students to work on neighborhood projects," says Ivy Fairchild, director of community affairs at Columbia Health Sciences. "Students' time is limited, and often they are unable to commit to more than one-day events. PSR's outreach has reinforced our commitment to providing services to the Washington Heights/Inwood community. It's amazing how excited community-based groups are to have students interested in working on mutually beneficial projects. It is definitely a win-win situation."

For the future, PSR leadership plans to run an "Alternatives to Violence" project as an elective for second-year medical students. The group also has a spring community service project planned for the Washington Heights area and hopes to sponsor speaking events that will highlight the social responsibility of physicians and what it means to be a "physician activist."

PSR has organized a few popular lunchtime talks with faculty members as speakers. About 75 students attended a talk last fall when Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean of the School of Public Health, talked about Medicare and Medicaid. Before the Goods for Guns drive in December, about 65 students heard Dr. Sonnett give a lunchtime seminar on gun violence. "We believe PSR can contribute a lot to students in practical experiences in our local community other student organizations do not offer," Mr. Coates says.

Discussing the spring community project for the Physicians for Social Responsibility are, left to right, Cheri Lowre'98; Amanda Deligtisch '98; Andrew Coates'98; Sean Mazer'98; Ivy Fairchild, director of community affairs for Columbia Health Sciences; and Catherine Petrou'98.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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