Lessons born of tragedy

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Gun violence, the LGBT community, and terrorism. Who would have imagined these 3 entities tragically colliding in Orlando last month, in the shadow of “the happiest place on earth”? The tragedy was all too real for the victims—mostly gay young Hispanic men—their families and friends, and all those who responded with urgent help. Our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, and our hats go off to those who rushed in to help—especially the dedicated law enforcement and medical personnel who saved many lives.

We respond as a nation and as individuals with great sadness and anger to an event like this. But are there lessons embedded in the sorrow for us as family physicians and primary care clinicians? I believe there are.

1. Ask yourself: Am I doing all I can to provide compassionate care? Although I think of myself as a caring, compassionate family physician who treats all patients equally, I realize that I must continue to educate myself about the culture and health needs of specific segments of my patient population to ensure that I provide truly excellent care. Traditionally, cultural sensitivity training has focused on knowledge of races, ethnicities, and cultures, but it must also include training about sexual orientation. Asking patients about their sexual orientation must be a routine part of the medical history.

Violence and discrimination, like chronic disease, seem to be permanent fixtures on the human landscape. What can we do to prevent and mitigate these evils?

One of the minority groups we know least about is transgender individuals, who have unique medical and psychological issues. It is tragically ironic that we had planned an article about caring for transgender patients—a group that experiences disproportionate discrimination and violence 1—for this issue of JFP long before the Orlando shooting. We still have much to learn about the most appropriate way of caring for transgender individuals because there has been so little research.

2. Treat gun violence like an infectious disease. Another lesson from the Orlando tragedy is to approach the issue of gun violence—which is always highly politicized and charged in this country—as a public health problem. One of the best examples of this approach in action is an organization called Cure Violence ( led by Gary Slutkin, MD, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. The organization proposes that the best way to stop violence is by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control. The group claims to have made great strides in reducing violence in the communities in which it works by treating violence as an epidemic.

Violence and discrimination, like chronic disease, seem to be permanent fixtures on the human landscape. We all must do our small, but important, part as health professionals to prevent and mitigate these evils.

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