How the New Generation of Doctors Will Approach Gun Violence

Marcia Frellick


June 06, 2018

The mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year hit Teron Nezwek, a second-year student at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, particularly hard. Seven years earlier, Nezwek had graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site where 17 people were gunned down on February 14. His sister remains a junior there. His first response to the massacre was a desire to remove any distance from the tragedy.

"I wanted to share that feeling of shaken-ness," he told Medscape. "I wanted to let the Boston community know that we can't let this seem like a tragedy happening in a distant town." He then mobilized his colleagues in medical school and the health sciences to put on their white coats for a rally to signal unity for change in the medical community. "The purpose was to ignite that conversation so people know that we don't want to wait anymore, and we need to act now in deciding how the medical community will present itself as advocates against gun violence and what our specific roles will be."

Those roles, he notes, are hard to determine without the benefit of research, which Congress hasn't funded in 22 years. "One of the most immediate issues we want to address is opening this channel of research, and that begins with addressing gun violence as a public health issue. If we address it as a public health issue and treat it the same way we treat heart disease and diabetes and liver disease, we will be able to use evidence-based research to support a stance on what we need to do," he said.

Medical groups nationwide agree, and more than 100 have asked Congress to lift the ban on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research.

Physicians Divided on Gun Issues

Conversations involving other aspects of gun ownership, use, safety, and talking to patients can be polarizing in the medical community. In a recent Medscape poll, 57% of physicians said that they felt a responsibility to discuss gun safety; however, physicians who own a gun were less likely to feel responsible for gun safety education (27%) than were those who don't own a gun (72%).

As to whether they see gun violence as a public health threat, 72% of physician respondents said yes.

Across the country, medical students are debating gun violence. However, few formalized programs are offered in medical schools to address the issues.