Two women stood next to each other among a crowd.
One was Cristina Novak, a doctor who had tried to save the life of a boy who was shot in North Philadelphia. The other woman was the boy’s mother.
“It was really powerful to be standing next to her and lobbying for the same cause,” Novak said.
The boy died from the gunshot wound and was only one of the many gun violence patients Novak has treated during her four years at Temple University Hospital. As a result, she decided to take action.
Novak and three other TUH surgical residents — Kit Kilmartin, Shilpa Agarwal and Lauren Schmidt — traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 29 for a gun control rally held by CeaseFirePA, a violence-prevention organization based at Temple University.
To protest gun violence, the four residents joined the Coalition of Trauma Centers for Firearm Injury Prevention, a medical professional organization that fights for stricter gun control created by Temple Hospital surgery professor Zoe Maher. The organization started in December 2018 with several physicians from the trauma centers at TUH, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Geisinger Medical Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The protesters held signs with the slogans like, “I’m a Doctor and this is my Lane,” while wearing their scrubs and white lab coats.
“We say that ‘stay in your lane’ is a hashtag, but part of me always wishes that it doesn’t have to be my lane,” Kilmartin said. “I would love to not have to worry about gun violence. I would love to not have to tell parents that their children are dead.”
“I would love to not have to see or have my junior residents or have my staff see the horrors that we see,” she added.
The #ThisisMyLane hashtag started in response to a November 2018 tweet from the National Rifle Association telling “anti-gun doctors” to “stay in their lane.” Medical professionals responded in outrage with photos of operating rooms and scrubs, bloody from treating victims of gun violence.
According to CeasefirePA, 306 people are victims of gun violence every day across the United States. In 2018, Philadelphia reported 351 murders, the most since 2007 and a 12 percent increase from 2017. Additionally, one of the deadliest mass shootings targeting the Jewish community occurred in Pennsylvania at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead.
As one of the people who try to stitch together the aftermath of firearm injuries, Novak believes gun control is something doctors should advocate for.
“While we may or may not be well versed in the physical guns themselves, we are very well versed in what the bullets are actually doing to human bodies,” Novak said. “With that kind of trauma that we’re seeing every day … I think we’re trying to make that clear that our voice matters, that the aftermath matters.”
Though it was the residents’ first time lobbying for gun control legislation, Schmidt believes they are on the right track to ending injuries from gun violence.
“Prevention is much better than taking care of these patients after they get injured, and it’s our duty as physicians to advocate for our patients’ health,” Schmidt said.
Agarwal holds a similar belief that she hopes to keep in mind for the Coalition’s future lobbying trips to Harrisburg.
“We actually ran into legislators who weren’t necessarily for gun violence prevention, but they were willing to talk to us and I think if nothing else, it opens up discussion,” Agarwal said. “Whether you’re for or against it, I think that’s the first step.”