Lab Coats With Bullseyes on Them? Protecting Yourself Against Violence

Gregory A. Hood, MD


July 29, 2016

In This Article

Why Doctors Need to Protect Themselves

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on a column about violence against physicians. As I sorted through the details, my subconscious worry has been when the next fatal attack would be.

Unfortunately, it came on June 30, as reported in Medscape.[1] Tony Lee Cason, a patient at Timberlawn Mental Health System in Dallas, Texas, violently tackled and killed Ruth Anne MarDock, MD, possibly because he was upset at having heard he would be transferred to another facility.

Six years ago, I wrote about violence directed against doctors.[2] Since that time, I've worked to persuade national medical organizations to take on awareness and training for physicians, and I've provided instructional lectures on dealing with hostile patients to dozens and dozens of physicians. Since that time, there have been additional assaults and murders of physicians and other healthcare workers—including personal friends of mine, such as Dr Martha Post, a dermatologist, who in 2011 was shot by a man who prosecutors said was obsessed with her.

The increasing state and national attention paid to controlled substance prescribing is but one of many reasons cited for increases in healthcare violence over the past several years. The murder of Kentucky primary care physician Dr Denny Sandlin is a classic case study of such an assault over responsible controlled substance prescribing.

A Topic That Strikes a Chord

People who meet me may wonder whether this topic has been something I've felt personally and why I've devoted so much ongoing effort to it. After all, I'm 6 feet tall and a former college athlete, and I am still reasonably young, aware, and able. The truth is that I've been assaulted personally, and in other instances have been threatened and intimidated by patients.

Today violence is, of course, not only directed against the healthcare community. Indeed, when one watches the nightly news, it may be easy to conclude that the world as a whole is getting more prone to violence. However, I can personally attest that the settings and the nature of healthcare delivery are both particularly personal and very close-quartered.

Recently, this issue was highlighted in a New England Journal of Medicine article by Dr James P. Phillips, another physician who has twice been assaulted.[3] He was quoted in an interview with Reuters Health as saying, "Our industry is, statistically, the most violent non-law-enforcement industry in the United States. And that's using government statistics that have been shown to under-report the actual violence that takes place by up to 70 percent."[4]


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