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How Academic Medicine Can Contribute to Peace-Building Efforts Worldwide

Levy, Barry S. MD, MPH; Sidel, Victor W. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181baa209
Response to 2009 Question of the Year

Dr. Levy is adjunct professor of public health, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts. He is former executive director, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and former president, American Public Health Association.

Dr. Sidel is Distinguished University Professor of Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and adjunct professor of public health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York. He is former co-president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, former president, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and former president, American Public Health Association.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Levy, PO Box 1230, Sherborn, MA 01770; telephone: (508) 650-1039; e-mail: (

Peace-building is the phase of the peace process that occurs after peace-making and peace-keeping have succeeded.1 Peace-building attempts to develop a “culture of peace” by identifying and supporting structures and cultural standards to avoid a relapse into conflict.2,3

Academic medicine can make important contributions to peace-building by (1) actions directed to war-ravaged countries, (2) actions directed to the communities in which academic medical centers are located, and (3) adherence to peace-building values. All of these contributions can be made by building trust and understanding among people and organizations, addressing underlying causes of conflict, and helping to resolve conflicts before they result in serious adverse consequences.

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Actions Directed to War-Ravaged Countries

Academic medicine can contribute to peace-building by providing and supporting education, research, and service activities directed to people and institutions in war-ravaged countries.

Educational activities can include developing curricular materials and teaching students in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education programs about the health and social consequences of war and how to effectively treat combatants and noncombatant civilians who have been physically or mentally traumatized by war. Academic medicine can promote research activities to document and broaden the understanding of the causes and health consequences of war and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to minimize and prevent these consequences.

It can help provide medical and public health services to noncombatants and military personnel, both in war-ravaged countries and the United States, who are suffering from the long-term physical and mental consequences of armed combat.

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Actions Directed to Local Communities in Which Academic Medical Centers Are Located

Academic medicine, through education, research, and service, can contribute to peace-building in local communities where academic medical centers are located. These efforts can broaden the understanding by medical students, physicians, and other health professionals of the people and culture of these communities through cultural and language competence training and other programs focused on their problems, aspirations, and ways of relating to others. These initiatives can promote education and research on the causes of conflict in these communities and how conflict can be resolved before it becomes violent. Community members should be involved in the design and implementation of this research. Academic medicine can establish partnerships with medical and public health organizations and community-based organizations to build trust and understanding and to provide medical and public health services to community members affected by conflict. Medical students, physicians, and other health professionals can be directly involved in efforts to prevent violence and promote peaceful resolution of conflicts in these communities.

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Adherence to Peace-Building Values

Mahatma Gandhi stated, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Taking heed of this admonition, academic medicine can demonstrate peace-building and promote a culture of peace by adherence to peace-building values.

Medical students, physicians, and other health professionals in academic medicine can build peace within their own institutions by (1) fostering cooperation in relationships among themselves and others, (2) preventing conflict by promoting transparency and ethical behavior, and (3) promoting mediation and arbitration to resolve conflicts before they result in serious adverse consequences.

Academic medicine can foster cooperation by engaging all members of academic medical centers in establishing a shared vision and developing and implementing shared missions, goals, and objectives. It can promote transparency and ethical behavior in a number of ways, including divulging financial and related information about potential conflicts of interest, accurately sharing information about the risks and benefits of alternative forms of treatment, and divulging to research subjects the risks and benefits of participating in research studies and sharing the results of those studies. Academic medical centers have many opportunities to submit conflicts and disputes for mediation and arbitration before they become serious. For example, when an academic medical center seeks to expand into the community or to discontinue a service—actions that may be opposed by community members and patients—it can submit such a dispute to mediation and arbitration processes.

By providing examples of peace-building and promoting the creation of a culture of peace within their own relationships, academic medical centers and those who work in them can demonstrate to others methods for peaceful settlement of conflicts.

In conclusion, academic medicine has many opportunities to contribute to peace-building in war-ravaged countries, in local communities, and in academic medical centers by education, research, and service, and by the attitudes and behaviors it demonstrates.

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1 Boutros-Ghali B. An Agenda for Peace. New York, NY: United Nations; 1995.
2 Maiese M. Peacebuilding. Available at: ( Accessed July 21, 2009.
3 Ashford MW. Toward a culture of peace. In: Levy BS, Sidel VW, eds. War and Public Health (Second Edition). New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2008:452–462.
© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges