“When we focus on peace and justice, we cannot just focus on the end of wars and the putting down of arms,” said Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. “Establishing peace is ensuring that every condition is created to dignify human life.”

Gbowee – who spoke at the Sept. 26 Department of Medicine Grand Rounds – is an activist and social worker whose nonviolent mobilization of women in Liberia helped bring a 14-year civil war to an end in 2003. She is the founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which focuses on education, leadership development and community engagement as key pillars of building a healthy and peaceful Liberia.

When Gbowee was pregnant with her third child and traveling to escape the violence in Liberia, she was seen by a doctor and was told she was extremely anemic. Sick and needing a blood transfusion, her doctor approached her partner to donate, but he had to refuse as he, too, was sick.

“My doctor did not say, ‘I am a doctor, so I will stay in my lane,’” Gbowee said. “Instead, he paid for my medications and increased my visitation days to ensure I was eating well because his office provided food.”

The day Gbowee gave birth, her doctor’s mother died, keeping him from the hospital. “I gave birth to a tiny 2 pound premature baby and I did not have a dime. So the hospital put me in the hallway and did not put my baby in an incubator,” she said. “After a week, my doctor came back. The staff told him I was up in the corridors with the other women who cannot afford care and he came running to me. ‘Oh my god, I have a grandbaby,’ he said. He paid my bill, gave me some extra cash and sent me home. That is peace interacting with medicine.”

In discussing privilege with the group of physicians, residents, trainees and students during the Grand Rounds, Gbowee emphasized the opportunity those in health care have to generate change and transform society.

“We all have privilege, but our privilege is a blessing, and we have to use that privilege to change the world,” she said. “There has been a lot of talk about how people have to stay in their zone. The military needs to stay in the military zone, peacemakers need to stay in the peace zone, and those in medicine need to stay in the medical zone. What people who say that don’t understand is all of this circles back to social issues and health issues. All issues are interconnected and interrelated.”