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Feb. 20, 2024

MSU College of Human Medicine hosts inaugural Remembrance Conference to address gun violence

The conference provided attendees with actions and solutions they can take back to their institutions

This story refers to the violence the Michigan State University community experienced in February 2023. Resources for students, faculty and staff are available from the Office for Resource and Support Coordination.


In March of 2023,
Aron Sousa, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, attended a conference with the Association of American Medical Colleges. Just weeks after the violence on MSU’s campus, Sousa found himself at a session on gun violence. Presenters from Northwell Health were sharing their work to address gun violence — including physicians asking patients about access to guns in their households and even providing locks to patients.

As the session concluded, Sousa began talking with his counterpart at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, Allison Brashear, who serves as dean and vice president for health sciences.

David Milling from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and Aron Sousa, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, speak on how the conference came together. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
David Milling from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and Aron Sousa, Dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, speak on how the conference came together. 

Sousa and Brashear discussed their shared experiences with gun violence in their respective communities. With personal connections and students affected, they wanted to engage on this issue.

Thereafter, MSU sent several students and a faculty member to Buffalo for meaningful dialogue as the community was approaching its one-year remembrance. The plan was that in 2024, the Jacobs School would send a delegation to MSU for continued dialogue.

We realized that if our two medical schools were going to get together, it would be more powerful and more interesting to invite other schools to be with us,” Sousa said. So, we took that concept to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and that was how the Remembrance Conference was established.”

MSU College of Human Medicine Dean Aron Sousa. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Dean Aron Sousa gives opening remarks at the conference. 

The 2024 inaugural conference was held at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center from Feb. 11 to 13. The goal of the conference was to develop teams of medical students and faculty to engage in conversations, curriculum and programming that employs a public health approach to reduce firearm injuries and fatalities.

Gun violence is the number one killer of children in the United States. That is why Sousa said he wants people to know a “public health approach is the most effective way to decrease the number of people dying from guns, particularly when you start thinking about preventing suicide and community shootings.”

Participants from nine medical schools across the nation heard from medical and trauma experts, government officials, medical students and, most importantly, from each other.

Hearing from leading doctors and researchers

Guest speakers included Roger Mitchell, professor and chair of pathology and chief medical officer of Howard University, who presented his model and research to address gun violence as a public health crisis and Dean Winslow, a retired U.S. colonel and professor of medicine and pediatrics at Stanford University, who shared his experience as a physician and surgeon overseas during the Iraq War. Annie Andrews, a clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington School of Medicine, also spoke on her candidacy for Congress in 2022 in South Carolina, and her work heading a national nonprofit organization advocating for children.

Aron Sousa, dean of the College of Human Medicine; Denny Martin, president of E.W. Sparrow Hospital; Benjamin Mosher, medical director of Trauma Services for E.W. Sparrow Hospital. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Dean Sousa moderates a discussion with Denny Martin and Benjamin Mosher of E.W. Sparrow Hospital. 

MSU-affiliated speakers included Alyse Ley, associate professor and associate chair of education and research in the Department of Psychiatry in the Colleges of Osteopathic and Human Medicine, and Frank Straub, senior director of violence prevention research and programs at Safe and Sound Schools, who shared their work co-directing Prevent 2 Protect. The initiative was made possible by a $15 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education and aims to prevent adolescent targeted violence and support communities with intervention efforts.

Denny Martin is the president of E.W. Sparrow Hospital and Benjamin Mosher is the medical director of Trauma Services for E.W. Sparrow Hospital, and both are clinical professors in the MSU College of Human Medicine. They spoke about caring for victims on the night MSU’s campus experienced violence.

Practicing advocacy with interactive sessions

Mona Hanna-Attisha, associate dean for public health in the MSU College of Human Medicine. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Mona Hanna-Attisha, associate dean for public health and C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health for the MSU College of Human Medicine, speaks on the advocacy panel. 

A major focus of the conference was advocacy — including how physicians and students can best explain public health solutions to policymakers.

Representatives from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the University at Buffalo and MSU spoke on their experience with government advocacy and relations, providing strategy and tips on advocacy.

Following the remarks, faculty and medical students were joined by Michigan state representatives and senators at their tables. They included State Sen. Sarah Anthony, State Reps. Julie Brixie, Penelope Tsernoglou, Kara Hope, and Emily Dievendorf, and Kali Fox, from the office of Senator Debbie Stabenow.

State Rep. Julie Brixie. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
State Rep. Julie Brixie hears advocacy pitches from students and faculty. 

This provided conference participants real-time practice with policy makers to offer their case for different policy changes to address gun violence through a public health approach.

Some participants shared their pitches with the entire conference.

Another interactive session was centered around curriculum development and patient care. Conference participants had the opportunity to practice how they would discuss firearms with patients in a variety of scenarios.

Sharing personal stories and collective efforts

Jasmanpreet Kaur is an MSU fourth-year medical student, set to get her residency placement in the coming weeks. Motivated by a passion to make health care more equitable and knowing people who experienced violence at the University of California, Santa Barbara, when she was an undergraduate student at University of California, Davis, addressing gun violence is personal. 

I was very shocked to realize that we’re not spending time talking about this subject matter. But yet we would spend hours on end learning about the rarest of diseases that we will probably never see in our lifetime,” Kaur said.

Jasmanpreet Kaur, a fourth-year medical student in the MSU College of Human Medicine. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Jasmanpreet Kaur, a fourth-year medical student in the MSU College of Human Medicine, speaks during the conference. 

So Kaur, with several fellow medical students, founded a chapter of Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic, or SAFE, at MSU. SAFE’s mission is to make sure health care providers have the skills and knowledge to advise patients, communities and legislators on firearm use and ownership to prevent injury.

Kaur said she and Ty Sadilek, also a fourth-year medical student, surveyed their fellow students to gauge interest on gun violence prevention, finding 75% wanted to see engagement. They then went through the curriculum, identifying areas to incorporate firearm safety, education and simulation spaces to address gun violence.

The MSU College of Human Medicine curriculum now includes sections on gun violence prevention, but as it stands, Kaur said only 25% of schools nationwide have such a curriculum.

MSU SAFE members, along with other medical students from the Jacobs School, spoke about experiencing gun violence on their respective campuses.

Students in the MSU College of Human Medicine. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Sadilek, speaks with Kaur, and Sam Shook, a second year medical student, about the work of the MSU SAFE chapter. Photo credit Bryan Esler.

Kaur recalled being on a Zoom meeting with her fellow SAFE leadership when she got an alert about what happened at MSU. Their work took on a new level of impact.

SAFE’s three pillars include research, advocacy and education. Sadilek shared how they engaged their fellow peers, sending a letter with over 700 medical students signing on for policy changes. In fact, this letter was referenced during testimony on the Michigan Senate floor — and policy recommendations proposed in that letter, such as safe storage laws — were signed into law and went into effect this month. Read more about the work of MSU SAFE here.

Remembering those lost and affected

Speakers also shared personal stories throughout the conference. Andrea Wendling, senior associate dean for academic affairs for the MSU College of Human Medicine, spoke about the night of Feb. 13, 2023.

That night, Wendling sent an email to students wanting to support them. After receiving a message from Kaur — they contacted every student individually by text to make sure they were safe and if they needed resources — until they heard from everyone. Wendling says that this was not just for the students, but also for her. This was just one story of remembrance shared at the conference.


 Andrea Wendling, senior associate dean of academic affairs for the MSU College of Human Medicine, walking past luminaries. Photo credit Bryan Esler.
Andrea Wendling, along with conference participants, walk past luminaries during the remembrance ceremony to conclude the first night. 

Attendees also took time at their tables to write the name of their medical schools and words on posters describing why they were attending the conference. The posters were then shared with everyone during a reflection activity led by Rev. Kinzer Pointer, the pastor of Liberty Missionary Baptist Church in Buffalo.

They also had the opportunity to light luminaries to honor and remember those lost or affected by gun violence. The luminaries were placed around the windows of the conference as the sun set on Feb. 12.

We focused on remembrance in this conference because remembering is how we interpret and create meaning from our experiences,” Sousa said. “This is why it is so important we remember the people who have died or been injured by gun violence.”

The hope for the future is this conference will expand to a national level with the help of the Association of American Medical Colleges — with more awareness and participation of medical schools — to spread the work of public health approaches in reducing gun violence in the United States. Read reflections from Dean Sousa can be read here.

All photos credit Bryan Esler.

By: Jack Harrison

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