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Med Student Sisters Earn Nobel Peace Prize Nomination

When the shootings at Columbine took over the news back in 1999, sisters Jessica Marrero and Shannon Marrero, then 15 and 13 respectively and living in Gainesville, Florida, decided they needed to do something about it.

Their program, Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support, or PALS, works to end teen violence and in the last 10 years, has served 30,000 middle and high school students without one suicide or major incident of violence.

Now, both women are students at Brown School of Medicine and their nationally acclaimed program for teens earned them a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel selection committee in Norway ultimately chose imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo as the 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate. The Nobel nomination package for the Marreros included a 14-minute video that recounted the impact of what Jessica Marrero describes as “a simple, small idea” that no one struggle alone with the emotional upheaval that often comes with adolescence.

By the time she entered Brown, Shannon had won national recognition as a teen leader and had started a hot breakfast program for the day laborers in her hometown. At Brown, Shannon’s volunteer work has focused on public health issues.

She has helped a member of the medical school faculty spread accurate and consistent information to Rhode Island pharmacies about an over-the-counter pill that provides emergency contraception, in response to reports that some patients who had sought the pill had been improperly denied.

And Shannon sparked a student-led initiative that works with the nonprofit Shoulder to Shoulder Inc. to raise money to send Brown-affiliated doctors and undergraduates to rural Honduras during school vacations to provide health care.

Jessica, meanwhile, has left her mark on the psychiatric rotations of Brown medical students at Bradley Hospital, where she started a weekly group for teenagers that combines music with free-association writing. The ensuing discussions help patients take a more active role in their own care, she said.

At the Providence Center, Jessica created a class in self-advocacy for mentally ill adults, her contribution to the Community Health Advocacy Program, which is sustained by a partnership between Brown student volunteers and community organizations.

Jessica is eyeing a specialty in family medicine, the choice of someone who is “passionate about everything and not willing to give up anything,” she says with a laugh.

As she starts medical school, Shannon looks ahead and says, “I want to have a portion of my career dedicated toward service. But I don’t see it as service. It’s what makes me sane and makes me tick.”

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