Taking action

House supports expanding laws to protect physicians against violence

Resolution calls for uniformity in state laws so physicians are equally protected in every state.


Recognizing the dangers that many physicians and other health care professionals face in the line of duty, the House of Delegates voted Saturday to pass a resolution supporting the expansion of laws protecting health care staff from physical and verbal assault.

The resolution originated from a discussion that took place this spring at the Regional Osteopathic Medical Education Southeast conference in South Carolina. Following a lecture on professional concerns, several attendees raised the topic of violence against physicians.

“We had about three or four physicians who expressed concerns about experiences with violence,” says Dianna Hannigan Glessner, DO, the president of the Georgia Osteopathic Medical Association, the organization that submitted the resolution. “One doctor works in pain management. When one of his patients didn’t get the pain medication he thought he should receive, he took a baseball bat and knocked out the windshield of the doctor’s car.”

Emergency physician Mehrdod Ehteshami, DO, MPH, also spoke of his encounters with violent patients.

“In the past year, I’ve had two people pull a gun on me,” he told The DO. “One patient pulled out a knife on me. I’ve had various patients threaten me. ‘If you don’t give me medication, I will find you and do this.’ ”

Following that meeting, Dr. Ehteshami did some research and found that while some states have laws designed to discourage violence against health care professionals—for instance, laws making sentences for violent acts against health care workers harsher than the general punishment for those crimes—other states don’t include physicians in their laws protecting individuals in public-serving occupations.

The resolution, which Dr. Ehteshami wrote, calls for the creation of protective legislation where it is absent and for uniformity in state laws so that all health care professionals will have equal protection whether they are practicing in Mississippi, New Jersey, Hawaii or Wyoming.



    I heard of a discussion wherein DOs were requesting weapons permits.
    This is a foolish and dangerous pathway.
    Innocents will likely be hurt. Leave the weapons to our police and security.
    One second’s hesitation by an armed physician may provoke a potential assailant to harm others.

    1. Michael

      Completely disagree. However, I think whether a physician wants to carry should be left up to the individual. If you had prefer to not carry and hope someone else will protect you, that’s your right.

  2. Anonymous

    I am full trained to both carry concealed and as well as open in certain places that allow it. As a pain management and addiction specialist, my patients are frequently abrasive if not given what they FEEL ENTITLED TOO. Obviously in those situations we correct their behavior but some they will not comply. Termination letters go out but sometimes reprise happens. While I never condone violence, I would hate to be in the situation where my staff is in danger. I protect us and will train my staff to be safe as well.

  3. Stan Smatcher

    Resolutions and laws don’t always work 100% of the time. That shouldn’t be a surprise. So what good is a resolution when violence is occurring? What is needed, and what would be useful during an active encounter with a violent patient, are two things. 1 is the understanding, backed by law, possibly, that doctors are human too, and are, therefore, entitled to the same rights and protections as their patients. A doctor protecting himself against a patient is just as reasonable as Everyman protecting himself against Bad Guy out on the street. We focus so much on patient protection, and don’t focus at all on the protection and well-being of our medical staff (obviously including nurses, PAs, and other staff). Just because you help others in a healthcare setting doesn’t mean you give up your human rights.
    The second requirement is some means of protecting yourself. Think about this; we give doctors and nurses the power to direct health care decisions, to perform surgeries and to prescribe medications with the expressed goal of protecting and preserving life. These people are responsible for the lives of others. Why can’t they be trusted to protect their own lives and the lives of their staff? Aren’t those lives of value as well? Law enforcement can be trained to carry firearms. Airline pilots can be trained. Why can’t doctors?

    There’s such a huge stigma about guns in this country, but they can be used to save lives, too.

    1. Stan Smatcher

      Part 2.
      Those who legally carry a firearm for self-defense do so not because they are criminals, but because they want to protect and preserve life! Why is that a bad thing? Saving lives can happen in more than one way. Consider this to be prevention. Also consider, (and people get this wrong regardless of their political ideology) that being able to defend yourself and others isn’t about condoning violence. It’s about the preservation of life. Having the tools to protect life is a good thing. Having adequate training to do so is also a good thing.

      This isn’t a black and white issue, and defenses need to be scalable. The same laws apply to healthcare self-defense, as apply to every-day self-defense; you can’t shoot someone because he’s angry and yelling- only if there is a clear and unavoidable threat to life.

      Consider that a person is willing to beat/harm/kill a doctor and/or her staff. That’s pretty severe right there. This isn’t the way we normally think, so for many, the concept isn’t easy to really, truly understand. The bad guy is willing to do harm to another human being, to the point of killing. That’s pretty permanent. To defend against that, people need an actual, physical means- a weapon, if you will- that will work at the moment it’s needed, not after fact. The law doesn’t stop the bleed. The law doesn’t physically stop violence in action. (And we need to consider patient mental status as well, of course. But even if a patient is innocently, let’s say, combative due to hypoglycemia, that patient can still hurt the doc or nurse, and that is a form of violence, even if it’s not intentional. I’m not suggesting that said patient should be shot. This concept is more to defend against the people who come with the intent and means to harm healthcare workers. Other means of handling combative patients should be available.)

      So, if we want to protect our healthcare workers, good people who have dedicated their lives to serving and helping others, people whose goal is the protection and preservation of life, we need to move away from the idea that stopping violence is somehow wrong, and that the preservation of life, the goal of medicine, can be accomplished by stopping violence as validly as is can be accomplished by performing bypass surgery. In order to stop violence, we need the tools to do so, and the understanding that those tools can be used for good.

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