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Street Medics and Social Medicine: Who Should Provide Medical Care to Political Protesters?

Television frequently shows scenes of crowds around the world protesting. Masses of people gather, usually peacefully, to express displeasure. As we’ve seen recently in Syria and other regions, interactions between the crowds and the authorities can turn bloody or even deadly.

Closer to home, the Occupy Movement demonstrations have occasionally led to similar issues, though the scale of conflict is nowhere near that displayed between protesters and authorities in other nations.

Who takes care of those protesters when there are clashes with troops or police or if there is a medical emergency? What happens if someone needs social services or long-term care? What is a doctor’s responsibility to a demonstrator? It’s a question most people never consider.

Matt Anderson, M.D., assistant professor of family and social medicine at Einstein and attending physician in family and social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, helped shed some light on this subject for Einstein medical students during a presentation titled “Medical Care at Political Protests.”

Watch Dr. Anderson’s introduction in the video below. Here’s a link to the complete “Medical Care at Political Protests” presentation.

The event stemmed from Dr. Anderson’s personal experience at an Occupy Wall Street event in Times Square last October when he was asked to help a man with a head injury. The situation raised questions for him. “It was really a confusing situation to know what to do,” Dr. Anderson says of that experience. “It was kind of a frightening and chaotic experience in which to find oneself.”

Besides sharing his experience, Dr. Anderson provided a brief history of this aspect of medicine and introduced three speakers at the event: an EMT, an M.D. and a lawyer. They talked about the unique organizational and logistical challenges of practicing medicine in crowded areas and taking care of people in varying states of physical and emotional distress.

The students attending the presentation also heard about the medical, social and legal issues involved in caring for protesters of all stripes in stressful situations.

It’s a fascinating subject and certainly something to be mindful of as protests in the news remain front and center.

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