After Newtown shootings The hearty role of a pediatrician


It’s with a heavy heart that we bear witness to the tragic loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut. The randomness of this event allows us all to relate to the details of horror and loss with uncomfortable familiarity.

After Newtown shootings: The hearty role of a pediatrician

Publish date: Jan 4, 2013
By:  Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP

It’s with a heavy heart that we bear witness to the tragic loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut. The randomness of this event allows us all to relate to the details of horror and loss with uncomfortable familiarity.

Like every other parent on earth, my first response was that of overwhelm and anguish. Many of my pediatric colleagues have shared with me their loss of sleep, their increased stress, and their ongoing sense of unease. This horrific shooting was a true punch in the gut. In part it seems such an undoing of good work. Think of all those children’s pediatricians. In my opinion, this news was exceptionally hard for those of us who get to work with children and who give so much of our lives to prolonging and enhancing their journeys.

The auspicious reality: those of us granted the privilege to care for children have been able to return to work and get back to preventing and curing pediatric suffering. Although many people report feeling helpless in America-we’re lucky enough to have the skills and tools to improve dozens of families’ lives every day.

Every single IPV, every single good pick-up, and every single extra second you take to listen, you potentially can prevent a tragedy.

As powerful as politics, our work to improve access to mental health, coordinate a comprehensive medical home, and start challenging conversations about firearm safety can save lives. We are handed exceptional responsibility when caring for children-the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings serve up a hearty reminder of the weight and power our role maintains.

In my 4 years using social media as a parent and pediatrician, no single topic has over-run my channels like this shooting. As I returned to clinical practice afterward, I have often been the one to bring up the fear and unease many families are feelings. As physicians, we will be the ones who need to start these conversations. Parents need our guidance and support now as much as ever before.

Three reminders Newtown has provided me as a pediatrician:

  • However inconvenient and time consuming, we must ensure that children and teens have access to mental health services. Even when the visit may be about acne, if something in our heart tells us a child is suffering psychologically, we must spend time to find out more, triage appropriately, and make room for follow-up. Those door-handle conversations are the worst place for this work but often the most frequent . . . waiting until next time just can’t be the right thing to do.

  • Our voice on firearm control, firearm safety, firearm education, and firearm protection is likely more potent than ever. Use every channel you have to promote opinions for improving safety for children. Tweet, update your personal or professional Facebook account, offer your time to media, and talk with families in clinic about how we can protect children. Parents are thirsty for your candid, researched opinion.

  • We are not alone. Although we hold exceptional roles in children’s lives, the heroism from teachers and staff in Connecticut demonstrates how many people every child in this country has fighting for his or her future. Whenever possible, we can improve our service to our patients by calling the teacher back, reaching out to a school counselor, or calling home to check in on a patient we’re thinking about. The dedication, sacrifice, and heroism we have learned about at Sandy Hook Elementary should inspire better work from us all.

Five things pediatricians can say in clinic:

  • The safest home for children is one without guns. If guns are in the home, the risk of death is significantly less when guns are stored unloaded in a locked container. Ammunition should be locked in a separate location.

  • Talk about having a balanced “media-diet.” Extensive research finds that exposure to violent games and media contributes to aggressive behavior, nightmares, fear of being harmed, and desensitization of violence. The effects are real-remind your patients and their parents.

  • Firearm injuries are most often fatal. Guns don’t break arms; they break lives.

  • The presence of a gun in a home increases the risk of lethal suicide: guns carry a mortality rate of 90% in suicide attempts.

  • Access to guns and unsafe storage creates deadly risk for children.

Research finds that pediatricians who bring up storage of firearms reduce injuries and save children’s lives. Opening up lines of communication will do the same.

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