“I’m an ICU nurse and this is my biggest 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 sink and my pulse race at the same time.
I’m a practicing general internal medicine physician, and though I’ve met some of the bravest individuals in medicine, we’ve reached a tipping point. People in my profession are scared. With gun violence on the rise alongside dangerous, anti-science misinformation about health care, we’re constantly left worrying about what could happen to us, even when we should be focused on the health of our patients. The Dallas shooting isn’t the first time this has occurred. This past 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 Little Rock, Arkansas hospital was killed by an acquaintance, according to police, in a seemingly random act of violence.
This all comes on the heels of a nationwide rise in violence against medical workers. More than 8-in-10 emergency physicians have reported that violence in their workplaces has increased, with 45 percent noting a spike in incidents in the past five years. Nationally, there have been 656 mass shootings this year alone — over 2 a day. In 2020, over 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries, including suicide and murder.
To add further injury to insult, health care workers are increasingly operating under draconian, political restrictions due to the over-politicization of health care. Abortion is now illegal or heavily restricted in at least t12 states, with more attempting to pass bans. As a result, lifesaving drugs are being 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 deliver the care patients need, while not risking arrest or other repercussions.
Our nation’s health care workers deserve more than just our words of support. They deserve action, and there’s something we can do.
In March 2018, I was the lead organizer of the March For Our Lives rally in San Francisco which drew an estimated 75,000 people to City Hall. I can tell you that there is certainly power when people come together around a shared vision. Just following the Feb. 14, 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I went on social media to see what was planned for our city and found nothing. So, I created an event online and invited friends to join students at San Francisco City Hall to support the national movement. To my surprise, within 48 hours, we had over 25,000 people RSVP to attend. I was shocked when I stood on that stage to introduce the incredible student activists — and took in a sea of people for as far as I could see.
This coming election requires the same level of support and bravery that those 75,000 people showed on the streets of San Francisco. People around the country need it, including your doctors, nurses and other health care workers. This means voting for common sense gun laws reinstituting the assault weapons ban, red flag laws which allows for temporary removal of firearms from a person who is believed to be a danger to others or themselves and universal background checks. But it also means voting for freedom.
As Election Day quickly approaches, make no mistake, freedom is on the ballot. More than just 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 — whether it’s hospitals, schools or places of worship. Lastly, a vote for Democrats is a vote for governance that respects science, so medical professionals, like me, can feel safe while doing our jobs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the opportunity this November to chart a course that will build safer, stronger communities. We have the ability to secure our freedoms and protect choice, while protecting doctors, nurses and other health care workers from violence.
Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, is an internal medicine physician in San Francisco, host of “TED Health” and the founder of endwellproject.org