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USF review urges doctors to take action on gun violence prevention

A small boy accompanied by a woman complains about pain in his throat while talking to a Black doctor at a pediatrician's office.
Drazen Zigic/Getty Images
The American Medical Association identified gun violence as a public health crisis in 2016 and the leading cause of death in U.S. children in 2020.

It highlights the critical role of physicians when it comes to preventing gun violence, saying they can help promote safety.

A recent review from University of South Florida researchers highlights the role of physicians when it comes to preventing gun violence.

It was published in February in the journal Advances in Pediatrics and suggests that doctors can actually play an important role in promoting safety.

The researchers encourage physicians to incorporate discussions about firearm safety in routine patient visits, including talking about safe storage and usage.

A man poses wearing a white doctor's coat that says "Tampa General Hospital."
Cameron Nereim
University of South Florida Health
Cameron Nereim said he has had many patients who have passed away from gun violence or have been impacted by it.

Cameron Nereim works in the USF Health Department of Pediatrics as an adolescent and young adult medicine specialist.

He said that gun violence has become a public health problem.

“It’s increased over the past decade to two decades in particular,” Nereim said. “What we've seen is, since 2014, there's been this spike in the rates of non-suicide related firearm injuries, in particular, among children and adolescents.”

In 2016, the American Medical Association identified gun violence as a public health crisis.

Then, in 2020, firearm-related injuries surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death in U.S. children.

An analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Pew Research Center found that gun deaths among kids increased by 50% from 2019 to 2021.

And, according to the USF review, the total number of gun violence-related deaths in 2022, regardless of age, was more than 44,000.

Even after a federal appeals court struck down the 2011 Florida law prohibiting doctors from asking patients about guns, some physicians remain hesitant to cross the line.

The review said physicians' concerns about discussing guns range from time constraints during appointments to a lack of comfort with the topic.

Data showing gun deaths among kids in the United States.
Pew Research Center
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
According to the American Medical Association, more children die from guns than vehicles in America.

However, Nereim said it’s important for doctors to intervene and minimize harm — and that starts with education.

“There are many, many opportunities to instill training programs, there can be lectures, there can be interactive workshops that can be developed within medical schools,” he said.

“There's so many spaces where providers are going to be impacted and they're going to be touched by this problem that I think that we really have to think broadly in terms of incorporating these kinds of educational reform, to make sure that the training is there, and that clinicians feel that they can do an effective job at asking these questions and providing this counseling.”

While many communities have been affected by gun violence, Nereim said that it was a personal story that motivated him to do the research and start encouraging doctors to speak up.

He said he really connected with a patient in Tampa. After calling their parents to go over lab results, they informed him that the patient passed away from gun-related injuries.

RELATED: Tampa's police chief raises concerns over teen gun violence after shooting

“I just reflect on the devastation. It only takes one of these incidents to just cause a tremendous cascade of heartache and pain,” Nereim said. “Reflecting on situations and stories like that, it's very easy to find the motivation and find the courage that we need to make sure we're standing up to this issue.”

Nereim encourages other physicians and local leaders to speak up about the problem.

“I think that there's a lot of really innovative and effective solutions that are out there and I think as clinicians we can be part of the advocacy, to bring these programs and these potential interventions, to break the cycle of violence within communities, and to also to effectively communicate that violence is not the answer,” he said.

The research also shows that community violence intervention models can decrease the problem over time. Nereim hopes to implement those models going forward.

“This doesn't have to be a problem that continues to get worse, this absolutely can be a problem that we can start to improve upon,” he said.

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.