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Gunshot study inspires violence prevention program

Jan. 17, 2013, 9:42 AM

This past fall, 150 sixth graders at Cameron College Prep middle school completed a violence prevention program that was the end result of an idea formed years before in a Vanderbilt University Medical Center operating room.

“Over and over I was seeing these young men, predominantly African American, who had been shot and come to the ER with their lives on the line,” said Manish Sethi, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation.

“As physicians, we see the problem of gun violence on the back end, but I wondered what we could do in the community to prevent these patients from ever entering our doors.”

Sethi and Alex Jahangir, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, studied 343,866 admissions to the VUMC Emergency Department over six years and found that compared to the general ED patient population, gunshot victims were predominantly male (87.5 percent), black (57.6 percent), under age 25 (47.8 percent) and enrolled in Medicaid (78.6 percent).

“The bottom line is that African-American males between the ages of 18 and 25 are 3 times more likely to sustain gun shot injuries than anybody else,” said Sethi, principal investigator of the study published online in September in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Sethi and Jahangir are Health Policy Associates at Meharry Medical College’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy.

Through the foundation, they were awarded a $20,000 grant to conduct a pilot project that will contribute to the improvement of minority health and/or the elimination of health disparities. They chose to partner with Metro Nashville Public Schools to develop an anti-violence program for middle school students.

After surveying dozens of the nation’s major gun violence programs and soliciting opinions from a local focus group of gun shot victims, the “Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders” (AVB) curriculum was chosen, and MNPS and LEAD Public Schools approved a pilot project at Cameron College Prep.

“We have a very diverse population, 98 percent on free or reduced lunch, and are close to the largest government housing in Nashville. We certainly have students who have been exposed to gun violence,” said School Director Tait Danhausen.

Administered during health class over 12 weeks, the AVB curriculum addresses the differing roles that individuals typically play in promoting or preventing violence. Pre- and post-tests revealed improvements on 25 of 37 questions related to conflict resolution and every question related to gun violence.

“We hope that if and when our students find themselves in these situations, this program triggers something. Their memory should kick in, that this is something they know about and have acted through, and are able to use those skills to find a good solution,” Danhausen said.

Sethi is in the process of applying to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for additional funding to continue the program at Cameron College Prep, and MNPS has expressed interest in expanding the program to all Davidson County middle schools for the 2013-2014 school year.

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