School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Taking on the Public Health Crisis of Gun Violence

There are some quotes that reverberate in my mind. One, from Nicholas Kristof, was in a recent New York Times Op Ed; A Smarter Way to Reduce Gun Violence. I continue to return to this statement weeks after first reading the column.

For decades, we’ve treated gun violence as a battle to be won rather than a problem to be solved — and this has gotten us worse than nowhere. – Nicholas Kristof

Public health is dedicated to solving problems, including the most pressing challenge of gun violence prevention. Let’s look at what it means to use public health principles:

Retrieved from Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence: The Public Health Approach to Gun Violence Prevention


This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the CDC’s museum, a four floor interactive exhibit that walks the viewer through the history of public health and how the CDC has responded. Having lived through many of the decades the exhibits review, it was also a reminder of how far we have come in some of our nation’s biggest challenges, except one, gun violence prevention.

While Surgeon General C. Everett Koop did not use the word gun, it could have easily been added to his description of the epidemic of violence:

The good news, if it can be categorized as “good,” is that we are finally witnessing a sea change in how gun violence prevention is viewed. It is now in the vernacular that gun violence prevention does belong in the public health arena. This concept alone, is a huge shift from even a few years ago. Thanks to social media, public health has moved front and center in the conversation of using their tried and true principles to begin to study in earnest, the impact of gun violence and how to reduce harm. That is the goal, reducing harm from gun violence through many layers of evidence-based interventions. 

I have turned to the “Swiss Cheese Model” of protection many times during COVID and often thought about what it would include if we used a similar visual for protecting our children and communities from gun violence. I took a chance when I saw the Tweet below that depicted the Swiss Cheese Model, to ask the Virologist, Dr. Ian Mackay to comment on what it might include applied to gun violence prevention. To my absolute delight, he responded, here are the series of Tweets. Special appreciation to Dr. Judy Melinek for starting the conversation!

Harm reduction is a model that no matter where you stand on the issue of gun ownership, we can certainly agree that protecting others, especially children, from harm is a shared value. That is one reason I am adamant, you might even say relentless, about having gun locks and the accompanying education available in school nurses’ offices across the country. I am working on a unique project that may bring this idea to reality, stay tuned for updates! 

Taking on the public health crisis of gun violence is a collaborative effort. I have had the opportunity to work across many sectors through the power of social media and am eternally grateful for the professional collegiality of those who have opened doors to include the school nursing perspective, experience, and expertise. We are first responders, educators, caregivers, public health experts and most importantly, the Chief Wellness Officers in our schools. As Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things,” in fact, we have no other choice.


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