'No safe place': Shooting hits home for Nashville doctors

Pediatric surgeon: "Why are our children being massacred in their schools?"

March 29, 2023, 1:21 PM

This is a MedPage Today story.

Two physicians with close ties to the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, where Monday's shooting took place are expressing their frustrations and calling for more action on gun violence.

Dr. Britney Grayson, a pediatric surgeon, said she had left the school less than 20 minutes before shots rang out, and Dr. Ryan Mire, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP), said he practices primary care about 10 minutes away from the school where six people were killed, including three children.

Grayson said in a Facebook post written four hours after the shooting that she had been asked by a friend to speak to students about her work in Kenya. She left the school at 10:12 a.m. ET, she wrote in her post, "and less than 20 minutes later, at least 3 children were shot right there on the campus."

"There are no words for this feeling. I think the normal feeling is supposed to be relief -- relief that we were already gone and our lives are safe. But to do what I do makes me literally one of the most qualified people on the planet to help in that situation. Why had we driven away just minutes before? Could I have helped those children if we were still there? I feel guilty for being safe," she wrote.

She added, "But furthermore, why are our children being massacred in their schools?! I have no idea when this country will have had enough and I'm utterly, completely, totally shocked that, as a nation, we aren't there yet."

Balloons, flowers and other items left at a makeshift memorial for school shooting victims by the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., March 29, 2023.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Mire echoed those sentiments, lamenting that there is "no place right now in the United States that is considered safe."

"We've had mass shootings in every setting, from places of worship to schools to grocery stores to medical office buildings and hospitals to movie theaters," Mire said. "There's just no place that's deemed to be safe."

Mire was in clinic at the Nashville independent group practice where he's been working for 21 years when he learned about the shooting. He said a lot of his patients have ties to the school, whether they were parents or grandparents of children who attended school there, or were employees at the school.

"My heart sank," Mire told MedPage Today. "It's hard to hear that it happened at any school, but when it's so close to home, in your own community, it's just devastating."

Mire had two patients cancel appointments on Tuesday because their children went to schools near Covenant School, and they were afraid to send their own kids to school.

"They canceled their appointments to stay home with their kids," he said, emphasizing that gun violence has ripple effects on communities. Children who experienced the shooting and survived "will have to carry this experience in memory and in post-traumatic stress for the rest of their lives."

Grayson went to medical school and did a surgical residency at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, then completed a fellowship in pediatric general and thoracic surgery at Indiana University.

She has been working at AIC Kijabe Hospital in Kenya as a consultant pediatric surgeon and educator, according to her Indiana University profile, and she went to Covenant School to share those experiences with the children.

"I have personally operated on a school shooting victim," she wrote in her Facebook post. "I have told too many parents and family members that their loved ones are dead as a result of gun violence. Enough is enough."

Mire said ACP plans to continue advocating for firearm reform legislation, including initiatives to close loopholes and ban assault-style weapons.

"This is definitely in our lane as physicians because firearm injury and death is a public health crisis," he said, "but our legislators have to step up and make a difference for the sake of society...We can improve our safety if we had tighter, more restrictive, and stronger laws on firearms."

People embrace at a makeshift memorial for victims of a shooting at the Covenant School campus, in Nashville, Tenn., March 28, 2023.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Mire said that even though ACP has been advocating for firearm reform "for nearly 30 years now, we have not really seen it take place."

"Last year, we had a glimmer of hope with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that was passed in June 2022," Mire said. "It was a start but it has not gone far enough because we continue to have mass shootings."

In 2020, gun violence surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the U.S., according to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"As president of the American College of Physicians, I have spent too much time with press releases on mass shootings, and we have so many bigger issues in healthcare that we need to fight," Mire said. "But we've had to divert our efforts to deal with something that can be preventable, and that is very frustrating."

Grayson subsequently updated her Facebook post: "3 children are confirmed dead. 3 children who learned the word 'Jambo' this morning from us in chapel. 3 children who were learning all the verses of Amazing Grace to sing for grandparents day next week. 3 children who didn't have to die. Lord be with us. Lord, be with us."