The lights are somehow brighter at 2 a.m., fluorescent and imposing, shining directly onto the hard white table in the center of the room. The paramedics wheel in a gurney with a lifeless body, blood-stained clothes and the face of a boy. The words that follow are too familiar, “16-year-old male, no known past medical, GSW to the abdomen and right lower extremity …” The boy is transferred to the trauma table and the battle for another life begins.
The training of trauma surgeons in the United States is unattainable for most. After four years of undergraduate education and four years of medical education, a surgeon will apply to a five-year residency and a two-year trauma and critical
care fellowship. After 15 years of physical and emotional education, a trauma surgeon will dedicate her/his life to patients, working nights, weekends and holidays for the entirety of their career. One injury any U.S.-based trauma surgeon commonly sees is the gunshot wound. When a person is shot in the United States, they will be cared for by a dedicated team of medical personnel, often led by a trauma surgeon.
In November 2018, the National Rifle Association released the tweet, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” The medical community did not take this statement lightly. Although the NRA does support the bullets, the medical community responds to the holes created and the lives lost.
Confronted with the outcome of gun violence daily, the medical community was appropriately angered by the flippant and disrespectful NRA statement. The NRA’s tweet also had an unintended paradoxical effect. #ThisIsMyLane trended on Twitter and the response from the health care community was an outpouring of frustration, which has incited lasting activism.
For more information on Youth Gun Violence Prevention, go to JJIE Resource Hub | Youth Gun Violence Prevention
The NRA statement incited political advocacy, educational programs and the creation of organizations dedicated to the primary prevention of gun violence in the United States. While not every physician is anti-gun, every physician seems to be anti-gun violence and thus this becomes the predominant message. Approximately 1.5 million Americans died from firearms between 1968-2015, more U.S. casualties than the battlefields of all American wars combined.
AFFIRM seeking ‘objective solutions’
Health care is dedicated to being part of the solution by discovering the root causes of the problem.
One such organization is the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM). This is an organization of researchers and clinicians dedicated to finding lasting solutions to curb the trend of the epidemic of gun violence across the United States. AFFIRM works to inform gun violence protocols for the frontlines of health care, engages the medical community in solving the gun violence epidemic and educates both health care professionals and the public on the U.S. gun violence.
Since the 2017 launch of the organization, AFFIRM has been dedicated to “objective solutions, not politics,” a mission driven by research, education and community outreach. AFFIRM has been true to this mission by funding grants, such as the Emory University School of Medicine Rural Emergency Department Firearm Assessment, Screening, and treatment (FAST Trial), participation in public education such as TEDx and funding educational initiatives such as the University of California, San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University project for Development of a Consensus-driven Educational Curriculum on Firearm Injury.
AFFIRM is also dedicated to community outreach, sharing the stories of the effects of gun violence in the U.S. from the perspective of health care personnel. Thus AFFIRM has teamed up with another physician organization Airway, to share stories from the front line of the gun violence epidemic. Airway is a national physician organization dedicated to promoting community, support and reflection among health care professionals through the art of storytelling.
On March 11, AFFIRM, and Airway are co-hosting Reframe, an event in New York City that will capture the voice of communities’ struggle against gun violence and help change the conversation toward solutions. Join the conversation.
Dr. Ashely Alker is an emergency medicine physician and a nationally published speaker and author, with a focus on patient education and health care policy. She worked as a health care advisor for a member of Congress, has been featured on KevinMD, TEDMED, Doximity, White Coat Investor and is a medical consultant for major network television and films.