Pritzker M3's Op-Ed Highlights Need to Equip Youth with Emergency Skills

After recent surges in violence impacting young people in Chicago and seeing the impact directly while working in the hospital, Symphony Fletcher knew it was time to speak out just a bit louder. The third-year Pritzker medical student made her voice heard with an op-ed in The Chicago Sun-Times on Dec. 29, advocating for increased opportunities to train youth on how to respond to life-threatening emergencies.

Prompted in part by events like the recent shooting at Benito Juarez High School that left two teenage boys dead in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, Fletcher penned the op-ed "Youth need to be trained on how to respond to life-threatening emergencies they witness" to highlight the staggering toll gun violence has had on children in the city as well as the disproportionate impact it has on Black and Brown communities. The op-ed noted increases in Chicago and nationally in rates of firearm violence and death on young people even as adult rates have trended downward.

"This reality is evidence of the need for widespread firearm injury prevention initiatives that are tailored to adolescents," Fletcher wrote. "Recognizing this need, local organizations are working to break the cycle of violence and firearm deaths by educating youth on emergency bystander response and violence prevention."

Fletcher, who recently implemented a trauma recovery and violence prevention program for adolescents as a Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellow, pointed to the work she has done with the Medical Careers’ Exposure and Emergency Preparedness Program (MedCEEP) as an example of a program teaching young people to react to the life-threatening injuries that for some are an unfortunate and common reality in their communities. Fletcher has been involved with MedCEEP, which was founded by UChicago Medicine emergency physician and Pritzker alumnus Dr. Abdullah Pratt, since her junior year as a University of Chicago undergraduate.

Through MedCEEP, Fletcher and many peers have trained hundreds of local students on how to control bleeding, such as that caused by a gunshot wound, which could prove a critical skill in response to classroom and community violence.

"It’s vital we shift away from the mindset that only medical or other health professionals should be equipped with the knowledge to save lives," Fletcher wrote. "In reality, members of the public can have the greatest life-saving potential in many of our communities."

Fletcher's focus on firearm violence against youth provided the impetus for her Schweitzer project, which led her in 2021 to co-found the Trauma Recovery and Prevention of Violence Program (T.R.A.P. Violence). T.R.A.P. partners with the non-profit Communities in School (CIS) of Chicago, with a focus on "recruiting youth violence prevention specialists and therapists to educate youth on trauma coping skills and violence de-escalation tactics."

Fletcher further highlighted the free "Stop the Bleed" training module offered by the American College of Surgeons that members of any community can take online in about 30 minutes, providing an easily accessed option for bleeding management at a time when many major cities with gun violence epidemics have no in-person options for such training. 

Though she has been involved in this work for more than five years already, Fletcher felt compelled by recent incidents in Chicago and the emergencies she witnesses as a medical student rotating in UChicago hospitals to advocate publicly for an issue that is often overshadowed by gun violence prevention alone. 

"The topic is a timely one and personally important to me," Fletcher said. "With the recent increase in adolescent violence being encountered by students I work with and also witnessing the backlash of this violence in the hospital on a daily basis, I felt inclined to author this op-ed to equip larger communities with means to be engaged."

Read the full Chicago Sun-Times op-ed for free here.