February 19, 2014

By Dr. Michael Geschwind, SF Bay Area PSR Board Member

When I was a medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York in 1990, I went to hear a lecture about IPPNW by Yuri Dzhibladze, a newly graduated medical student from Russia. I was fascinated by their work because the idea of weapons of mass destruction seemed against everything a physician stood for. He also spoke about the Baltic Bicycle Tour, in which medical students and physicians were going to bicycle around the Baltic Sea to protest nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea. I asked him who would be the American representative on the tour, and he said there was none. So I got in touch with the organizers and became the American representative! After spending a week in Moscow visiting Russian relatives I’d never met, I took a train with my bike to Leningrad and met 25 medical students and physicians from all of the Baltic countries to protest nuclear weapons. This trip opened my eyes up to what medical students and doctors could do.

As I became friends with medical students from the Soviet Union, I realized that while our countries were bitter enemies with nuclear weapons ready to annihilate each other, on a personal level we had so much in common and could be good friends. I came to see the importance of international exchange and collaboration. If you’re friends with someone, you’re not going to point a nuclear weapon at them.

When I returned, I became the U.S. medical student representative to PSR, before they had a formal medical student position on the Board. I got involved in the local PSR chapter, reinvigorated a chapter at Einstein, and got on the NYC PSR Board. I also helped organize the student section of IPPNW’s conference in Mexico City in the early 1990’s. While a medical student, I was also honored to be awarded the Broad Street Pump Award, PSR’s highest honor, for my work organizing medical students.

The Einstein PSR chapter started collaborating with other groups on campus. For instance, we worked with inner city elementary schools in the Bronx on non-violent conflict resolution. The group would role play and try to get students to diffuse and prevent fights from happening. We also worked with another local Einstein group, “Spoons: Serving Part Of Our Needs,” providing meals for the homeless. We went to local restaurants at the end of the evening to collect leftover food for homeless shelters. In one year, we served over a quarter million free meals, all through volunteer labor.

Dr. Victor Sidel, Distinguished University Professor of Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and founding member of PSR, became my mentor in medical school. He was the IPPNW representative to the UN. I started going with him to meetings. We served on a UN joint committee in collaboration with the International Association of University Presidents on arms control education, developing a course book for universities. Through this work, I became IPPNW’s Deputy Representative to the UN. I would go to economic and social council meetings with the UN and provide reports back to PSR and IPPNW. My perception was that a lot of what was important with the UN happened on the outskirts with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It was a great way for NGOs working in the peace and anti-weapons of mass destruction movement to connect.

At that time, I was a MD-PhD student at Einstein, working on my PhD. I would work in the lab at night while it was quiet, catch a bus on Thursday mornings to the UN, and be back at the lab or class by noon!

Having a mentor at that time was really important to me. I never would have accomplished what I did in PSR without someone like Dr. Sidel: he tutored me, and I also learned by osmosis, just by being exposed to him and helping him with various projects.

Medical students have vitality and energy to make a difference. For PSR to continue to grow and have a future, it has to have a base of youth. It is a bit of an uphill battle because the medical school curriculum has only added more, so it makes it harder for medical students to have free time.

PSR is an incredibly motivated group of people. Getting to know people who are dedicated to making the world a better place has been a highlight of my involvement. To see what they have accomplished and are still accomplishing never ceases to amaze me: they are really an inspiration.

Read Dr. Geschwind’s bio on our website.