In March, the MMA released a comprehensive policy statement on the public health crisis associated with gun violence. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the statement in a front-page article. Television stations covered it on their evening news reports, numerous community newspapers wrote about it, and MMA President George Schoephoerster, MD, appeared as a featured guest on TPT’s Almanac show.
Why was the MMA’s position such a big news story? Why did it generate more than 800 online comments?
In today’s highly politicized environment, I believe there is a hunger for thoughtful, nonpartisan, respected leadership on this topic. Physicians are consistently ranked by the public as among the most respected and trusted professionals. On issues of patient care and public health, the voice of physicians – as scientists, as patient advocates, as community leaders – matters. And that voice can create change.
But stepping up on controversial issues is not without consequences. Several physicians cancelled their membership in response to the statement. One exiting physician wrote: “While the issue of gun violence is very real and warrants vigorous public health research with subsequent evidence-based initiatives, the role of a medical professional society is to speak on behalf of its membership from a position of sound medical science. This was clearly not done in this case, and the manner of presentation of the MMA’s position largely appeared to be grandstanding.”
The MMA also received several vitriolic emails and calls from members of the public. One wrote: “I know you are not all brain surgeons but which one of you idiots thinks a criminal is going to obey a gun control law when killing is already illegal? Your complete lack of intelligence is simply mind-blowing.”
The MMA also gained some new members. As a professional association, the MMA must thoughtfully weigh how its positions and actions will be viewed by its members and prospective members. We aspire to attract and reflect the diversity of all individuals who practice medicine in Minnesota. And we work to celebrate our members’ demographic and ideological diversity and to listen to differing points of view.
The MMA doesn’t work on behalf of physicians who are gun control proponents, nor does it work on behalf of those who are gun rights proponents. We work to support physicians in their role as caregivers, researchers, and scientists dedicated to improving the care of patients and the health of all Minnesotans. The MMA has an obligation to raise its voice on health issues of consequence, and the intentional and unintentional injuries and deaths caused by firearms demands attention.
Physicians are not afraid of making difficult decisions for the benefit of their patients. The MMA can’t be afraid of making difficult decisions either. I don’t expect every MMA member to agree with every MMA decision. But you can expect that the MMA will do its best to make decisions that are thoughtful, based on the best available information or evidence, and focused on advancing the medical profession and the health of Minnesotans.
The voice of physicians matters – now more than ever before. Make sure your voice is included. Thank you for your support.
Silversmith is the MMA’s CEO.