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Medical students learn public health impact of gun violence in new course

This fall, the Washington University School of Medicine is offering a class titled ‘Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue’ for the first time. Various medical school faculty, faculty from other schools at Washington University and Saint Louis University, and experts from local community organizations working on issues related to gun violence are teaching the course, which is designed to survey all major aspects of gun violence as a public health issue.

Topics addressed include:

  • History of firearm access and legislation
  • The scope of the problem of gun violence in America
  • Violence intervention programs
  • The role of the physician in treating victims of gun violence and educating patients

Students will be asked to design a proposal identifying ways that gun violence could be integrated into the standard medical school curriculum. The course comes at an opportune moment, as a recent research study (authored by Washington University School of Medicine professor Jane Garbutt) found that almost 1.7 million children under the age of 18 live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns, making them 16 times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than in other high-income countries.1 And, an estimated 660 children are hospitalized each year with non-fatal, unintentional firearm injuries.2

However, pediatricians are not discussing gun safety with their patients’ caregivers. “Many physicians feel a professional obligation to discuss gun violence prevention, but they don’t because they are not sure what to say or what they’re legally allowed to say,” Garbutt, explained. This course should help clear up some of those questions.

Ilana Rosman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Pathology and Associate Director of the Washington University Dermatopathology Center, is lead faculty sponsor for the new class. The class is endorsed and guided by Rosman, the Institute for Public Health, and its Larry J. Shapiro Director, Bill Powderly.

For more information on what Washington University is doing about gun violence in the St. Louis region and beyond, visit the Institute’s Gun Violence Initiative online.


1Okoro, Catherine A., David E. Nelson, James A. Mercy, Lina S. Balluz, Alex E. Crosby, and Ali H. Mokdad. “Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 states and the District of Columbia: findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002.”Pediatrics 116, no. 3 (2005): e370-e376.

2Leventhal, John M., Julie R. Gaither, and Robert Sege. “Hospitalizations due to firearm injuries in children and adolescents.” Pediatrics 133, no. 2 (2014): 219-225.