“I am an ICU nurse and this is my greatest fear,” read one of the many messages I received on social media last weekend after a gunman opened fire at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, killing two nurses. Reading these messages made my heart beat and heartbeat at the same time.
I am a general internal practitioner, and although I have met some of the bravest people in medicine, we have reached a tipping point. People in my profession are afraid. With gun violence on the rise along with dangerous anti-scientific misinformation about healthcare, we are constantly concerned about what might happen to us, even when we should be focusing on the health of our patients. The Dallas shooting isn’t the first time this has happened. Last June, four people, including three hospital staff, were killed by a shooter at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just a couple of weeks ago, a man visiting a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, was killed by an acquaintance, according to police, in a seemingly random act of violence.
All this in the wake of a nationwide increase in violence against health workers. More than 8 out of 10 emergency doctors reported that workplace violence has increased, with 45% having noticed a spike in accidents over the past five years. Nationwide, there have been 656 mass shootings this year alone, more than 2 per day. In 2020, over 45,000 people died from gunshot wounds, including suicide and murder.
To add further insult to injury, health care workers increasingly operate under draconian political restrictions due to the excessive politicization of health care. Abortion is now illegal or severely restricted in at least t12 states, with multiple attempts to pass bans. As a result, life-saving drugs are denied to patients because they could have an abortive effect. These laws have left doctors with a minefield of legal and ethical dilemmas as they attempt to provide the care patients need, without risking arrest or other repercussions.
Our nation’s health workers deserve more than our words of support. They deserve action and there is something we can do.
In March 2018, I was the main organizer of the March For Our Lives rally in San Francisco, which attracted around 75,000 people to City Hall. I can tell you that there is definitely power when people come together around a shared vision. Immediately after the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I went to social media to see what was planned for our city and found nothing. So, I created an online event and invited friends to join San Francisco City Hall students to support the national movement. To my surprise, in 48 hours, we had over 25,000 RSVP people to attend. I was shocked when I took to that stage to introduce the amazing student activists and welcomed a sea of people as far as I could see.
The upcoming elections require the same level of support and courage that those 75,000 people have shown on the streets of San Francisco. People across the country need it, including your doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. This means voting for common sense gun laws that reintroduce the ban on assault weapons, red flag laws that allow for the temporary removal of firearms from a person who is believed to pose a danger to others or to themselves and universal background checks. But it also means voting for freedom.
As Election Day approaches, make no mistake, freedom is on a ballot. More than the freedom to choose, a vote for Democrats is a vote for freedom from politicians making your medical decisions for you. A vote for Democrats is a vote for common sense gun laws that keep gun violence out of our communities, be it hospitals, schools, or places of worship. Finally, a vote for Democrats is a vote for science-friendly governance, so medical professionals, like me, can feel safe while doing our jobs.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We have the opportunity this November to chart a path that will build safer and stronger communities. We have the ability to guarantee our freedoms and protect choice, while protecting doctors, nurses and other health professionals from violence.
Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, is an internal medicine physician in San Francisco, host of “TED Health” and founder of endwellproject.org