LMS President’s Message: Recognize a Public Health Crisis in Our Society
By Khalil Rahman, MD, MBA
For this month’s address I planned to write about the basics of finance such as income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, etc. However, considering the tragic events in Buffalo and Uvalde, I feel it is imperative to address a public health crisis that is often overlooked in our field: gun violence.
As a father, it is impossible for me to think of the children we have lost without thinking of my own son who is in the public school system. I cannot bear the thought of sending him to school one day only for him to not return home or for him to suffer physical and emotional damage, but it is something I must always be weary of. I empathize with the victims and their families, whose lives will never be the same after this senseless act of violence.
As healthcare providers, we can do so much and yet so little for victims of gun violence. We can provide acute care and give patients with gunshot wounds and severe traumas another chance at life. But what of the chronic effects of gun violence? Some physical injuries are irreparable, and severe emotional distress takes a heavy toll on victims and their families. After going through what they have gone through, they may never be the same again.
The psychological impacts of such tragedies cannot be understated. They extend far beyond just the victims and their families. Communities are forever changed in the wake of such acts of gun violence. Targeted attacks such as the one in Buffalo leave people of color afraid to leave their homes, scared that they will be a victim of senseless violence due to the color of their skin. The broadcasting of violence all over televisions and social media platforms collectively traumatizes the country, as time and time again we see innocent lives being lost, but no action is taken to protect ourselves and our children.
While it is easy to be caught up in this cycle of hopelessness, as healthcare providers it is our responsibility to provide aid to communities impacted by this violence. We must recognize the shortcomings of our systems and combat them. Given that our country has a mass shooting every day, we must have a medical system that is trained to handle the growing population of people suffering from mental health afflictions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We must invest further in providing quality mental health care such as psychotherapy for acute distress. Mental healthcare deserts, cultural stigmas, and high costs present barriers to access of mental healthcare for victims of gun violence.
Not only must we be reactive in accommodating victims of violence, but also proactive in order to prevent the violence from happening in the first place. The American Medical Association supports common-sense gun reforms such as background checks and removing firearms from high-risk individuals as policy solutions to what it calls a public health crisis. Most research suggests that increasing the presence of psychologists and therapists in schools leads to early interventions which prevents students from becoming violent.
I understand that the issue of gun violence can be very contentious, and some of you may not share my sentiments. If I can leave you with just one thought, it is this: Place yourself in the shoes of one of the parents of the children lost in the Uvalde shooting. Imagine all that pain, the heartbreak caused by the void in your life that will forever be unfilled. Ask yourself, what kind of system would you want after losing your child to gun violence, to make sure no one else feels that pain. Now, we must come together and build that system.
Khalil Rahman, MD, MBA.