Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the United States. Suicide, interpersonal violence, unintentional injuries and mass shootings all contribute to this medical and public health emergency.

“As horrific as the statistics are, gun violence goes way beyond the death count,” says Peter Masiakos, MD, MS, pediatric trauma surgeon at Mass General for Children. “It extends to those who are shot and survive, to families, friends, classmates and communities – and to those who care for the injured and their families.”

Masiakos – along with Chana Sacks, MD, MPH, of the MGH Department of Medicine – are co-directors of the MGH Gun Violence Prevention Center, a multidisciplinary initiative dedicated to preventing firearm-related violence and promoting safety in homes and communities. Both Masiakos and Sacks are personally connected to the center’s work; Masiakos has spent more than three decades operating on adults and children impacted by gun violence, and Sacks’ 7-year-old cousin was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The center began to take shape soon after, formalizing in 2019.

“One of our major initiatives is education,” says Sacks. “We developed a novel, interactive curriculum that teaches clinicians how to talk with patients about firearm safety. It includes simulation sessions with patient actors. Through these sessions, trainees develop their language around this topic and can practice their skills in a safe learning environment. Such training allows clinicians to use a health-focused, culturally competent approach in the effort to address this preventable trauma.”

The program incorporates counseling, epidemiology and statistics. All MGH residents receive the training; the curriculum is also presented and used nationally. The program was awarded a Stepping Strong Innovator Award from the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma and Innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which supported a collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to create a virtual reality training that allows clinicians nationwide to take part.

The Gun Violence Prevention Center also works with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute to allow Emerson College students, faculty and community members to create media about the dominant narratives of gun violence. Named Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence, the collaboration seeks to understand the impact these narratives have and aims to co-create interventions for change. This work has been disseminated in communities, youth organizations, hospitals, in a prison, at Boston City Hall and at major medical conferences.

“Although June is Gun Violence Awareness Month, we need to be thinking about preventing gun injuries every day,” says Masiakos.

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