On the afternoon of November 19, 2018, Dr. Tamara O’Neal was shot and killed by her ex-fiancé outside Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. After killing Dr. O’Neal, the gunman ran into the hospital where he exchanged gunfire with police, killing a pharmacy resident and a police officer, before he was killed by police.1
This horrific encounter between a woman and her former partner begs for a conversation about intimate partner violence (IPV). A data brief of The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey was published in November 2018. According to this report, 30.6% of women experienced physical violence by an intimate partner in 2015, with 21.4% of women experiencing severe physical violence. In addition, 31.0% of men experienced physical violence by an intimate partner in 2015; 14.9% of men experienced severe physical violence.2
Intimate partner violence is “our lane”
The shooting at Mercy Hospital occurred amongst a backdrop of controversy between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the medical community. On November 7, 2018, the NRA tweeted that doctors should “stay in their lane” with regard to gun control after a position paper from the American College of Physicians on reducing firearm deaths and injuries was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.3 Doctors from every field and from all over the country responded through social media by stating that treating bullet wounds and caring for those affected by gun violence was “their lane.”4
It is time for us as a community to recognize that gun violence affects us all. The majority of mass shooters have a history of IPV and often target their current or prior partner during the shooting.5 At this intersection of IPV and gun control, the physician has a unique role. We not only treat those affected by gun violence and advocate for better gun control but we also have a duty to screen our patients for IPV. Part of the sacred patient-physician relationship is being present for our patients when they need us most. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that ObGyns screen patients for IPV at regular intervals and recognizes that it may take several conversations before a patient discloses her history of IPV.6 Additionally, given the increased risk of gun injuries and death, it behooves us to also screen for gun safety in the home.
Ask patients about IPV, and ask again
The shooting at Mercy Hospital was a stark reminder that IPV can affect any of us. With nearly one-third of women and more than one-quarter of men experiencing IPV in their lifetime, action must be taken. The first step is to routinely screen patients for IPV, offering support and community resources. (see “Screening for intimate partner violence). The second step is to work to decrease the access perpetrators of IPV have to weapons with which to enact violence—through legislation, community engagement, and using our physician voices.
States that have passed legislation that prohibits persons with active restraining orders or a history of IPV or domestic violence from possessing firearms has seen a decrease in IPV firearm homicide rates.7 These policies can make a profound impact on the safety of our patients. Women who are in violent relationships are 5 times more likely to die if their partner has access to a firearm.5
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