Dear PPGV Members,
Last month Andrew Zweifler and I were pleased to participate in the National Medical Council on Gun Violence conference in Chicago. This was a CME conference devoted to exploring how the medical community can make a meaningful impact in addressing the epidemic of gun violence in America. Our talk, titled “Let’s Talk About Guns: Strategies for Successful Clinical Conversations” was well received and generated lively discussion. In our presentation, we examined the many barriers that complicate physicians’ ability to talk with patients about guns, ranging from legal barriers such as “gag laws” (otherwise known as the “Docs vs. Glocks” law in Florida) to general mistrust and fear that can directly impact the doctor/patient relationship. Using the example of a “well child” visit as the context for illustrating successful strategies for discussing this topic, we emphasized the importance of building warm, genuine relationships with patients and also highlighted the physician’s role as an educator in providing common sense anticipatory guidance. Just as physicians routinely advise patients about the necessity of bicycle helmets, car seats, and smoke alarms, so must we educate our patients about the importance of safe gun storage and restricting access to people who should not have them such as children, substance abusers, domestic abusers, cognitively impaired adults, and anyone in the midst of a mental health crisis.
There were many incredible and nationally known speakers at this conference including Deb Azrael from the Harvard School of Public Health, Injury Control Research Center who spoke about the epidemiology of gun violence; Liza Gold – forensic psychiatrist from the Georgetown University School of Medicine and editor of the recently published book, Gun Violence and Mental Illness; surgeon Michael Hirsch of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center who spoke about an exciting and successful gun buyback program that he has developed in his community, and psychiatrist Elspeth Ritchie, professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences who spoke about the unique difficulties related to gun violence with military service men and women. All of the presentations were outstanding. I am hopeful that the entirety of the conference will be made available online so that everyone can learn from the material that was presented. Here is a link to the conference brochure that lists all of the speakers. We are especially grateful to Mike Weisser for organizing this event and gathering together this passionate and determined group of clinicians, researchers, and advocates.
One of the most exciting outcomes of the conference was a common desire amongst participants to incorporate gun violence prevention into medical training. Dr. Zweifler and I have joined a work group that is collaborating to put together educational materials geared for medical students, resident physicians, and physicians in practice. This is an exciting opportunity, and we welcome the involvement of anyone who is interested in collaborating. Please contact Dr. Zweifler (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself if you would like more information. We are only getting started now, but hope that we will be able to harness the momentum and passion generated in Chicago to make an important and necessary impact in the world of medical education.
It was an honor and a pleasure representing PPGV at this conference, and we look forward to continuing our work together to reduce preventable injuries and deaths due to gun violence in our communities.
Sonya Lewis, MD, MPH
Andrew Zweifler, MD