“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 Medical Center in Dallas, killing two nurses. Reading these messages made my heart sink and my pulse quicken at the same time.
I am a practicing internal medicine physician and although I have met some of the bravest people in medicine, we have reached a tipping point. People in my profession are scared. With the rise of gun violence along with dangerous, anti-scientific health care misinformation, we are constantly worried 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 happened. Last June, four people – including three hospital staff – were killed by a gunman at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just a few weeks ago, a man visiting a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, was killed by an acquaintance in what police say was an apparently random act of violence.
All this comes against the backdrop of increasing nationwide violence against medical workers. More than 8 in 10 emergency physicians report that violence in their workplaces has increased, with 45 percent reporting a jump in incidents over the past five years. Nationally, there have been 656 mass shootings this year alone – more than 2 per day. In 2020, over 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries, including suicide and homicide.
To add insult to injury, healthcare workers are increasingly working under draconian political constraints due to the excessive politicization of healthcare. Abortion is now illegal or highly restricted in at least 12 countries, with more trying to pass bans. As a result, life-saving drugs are being withheld from patients because they could have an abortifacient effect. These laws have left doctors facing a minefield of legal and ethical dilemmas as they try to provide the care patients need without risking arrest or other consequences.
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 drew about 75,000 people to City Hall. I can tell you that there is certainly power when people come together around a shared vision. Right after the February 14, 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I took to social media to see what was planned for our city and found nothing. So, I created an event online and invited friends to join the students at San Francisco City Hall to support the national movement. To my surprise, within 48 hours we had over 25,000 people RSVP. I was shocked when I stood on that stage to introduce the amazing student activists – and absorbed a sea of people as far as I could see.
The upcoming election requires the same level of support and bravery that these 75,000 people showed on the streets of San Francisco. People all over the country need it, including your doctors, nurses and other health care workers. That means voting for common sense gun laws reinstating the assault weapons ban, red flag laws that allow firearms to be temporarily taken away from a person believed to be a danger to others or themselves, and universal background checks. But it also means voting for freedom.
With Election Day fast approaching, make no mistake, freedom is on the ballot. More than freedom of choice, voting Democrat 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. Finally, a vote for Democrats is a vote for governance that respects science so that medical professionals, like me, feel safe doing their jobs.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We have an opportunity this November to chart a course 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 care workers from violence.
Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, is an internal medicine physician in San Francisco, host of “TED Health” and founder of endwellproject.org