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Emergency room doctor reflects on treating trauma and preventing violence in new book


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: A new book offers a firsthand look at the root causes and potential solutions to a critical issue plaguing communities across the country. That's violent crime.

Emergency room physician Dr. Rob Gore, shares stories of what he's witnessed and experienced working in cities such as New York, Atlanta and Chicago and overseas in places like Kenya and Haiti. He created a successful violence prevention program to keep young people from acts of violence before they reach his E.R.

I recently spoke with Dr. Gore about his book, "Treating Violence: An Emergency Room Doctor Takes on a Deadly American Epidemic."

Geoff Bennett: Dr. Rob Gore, welcome to the "NewsHour."

Dr. Rob Gore, Author, "Treating Violence: An Emergency Room Doctor Takes on a Deadly American Epidemic": Well, thanks for having me.

Geoff Bennett: Your decision to become a doctor serving those most in need was really influenced by your own childhood, by your own experiences with violent crime.

And you write about being beaten and robbed as a 10-year-old. How did that searing moment set you on this journey?

Dr. Rob Gore: I was on the corner of our block. I was coming home from school and these two guys jumped me. Somebody came from — grabbed me from behind. Another guy punched me, and they dug my pockets and stole my bus pass and my dollar that I had. I didn't have any money. But it was terrifying.

And I left that space going home thinking, this is never going to happen again. And I want to make sure that nobody takes advantage of me. So I started carrying razor blades to school. I carried razor blades from the age of 10, 11 up to the age of 18. I carried screwdrivers. I never carried a gun. But my goal was to make sure that I was going to be protected at all times.

It's something that, growing up as a Black male, growing up in an urban setting, growing up in a place where you might be considered prey, especially if you're a nerdy kid, you're kind of skinny, and you're not a very imposing figure, they go, oh, wow, that's the person I want to take advantage of.

And if you have been on the receiving end, you want to make sure this never happens to you again.

Geoff Bennett: What's gained by viewing violent crime, this epidemic of violent crime, as a public health imperative?

Dr. Rob Gore: Violence is a type of trauma. And trauma is any sort of injury that comes about as a result of some sort of force.

But violence itself is so different because this is — it's intended to harm, to kill, to injure. And it's not like just some sort of accidental process. And when somebody inflicts a level of injury that's — that was deliberate, it becomes — it's almost a personal attack.

And the stress that comes from receiving that trauma, the stress that occurs in many of the communities that I have worked in, the recurrent trauma, the recurrent violence, this experience, creates a level of stress that I wouldn't wish on anybody.

When you're constantly stressed — and this is some of the things that we have seen overseas. When you're constantly stressed, when you're under constant duress, and stress can come in many different forms, but when you don't have an ability to process that, when you don't have safety nets that are in place that allow you to have access to a recovery period, you don't do well.

And us looking at violence through this public health lens is really something that we're hoping to really change the scope of and to help keep people alive. I started doing violence prevention work almost as a way to ensure that I stayed around. Homicide is the number one cause of death for Black men ages 15 to 34 and the number two cause of death for Latinx men ages 15 to 34.

When I started doing that work, I was in that age bracket. I'm kind of past that at this point in time. But I still see people who are my age coming in who are traumatized, coming in who are receiving deliberate injuries because somebody deemed their life less important than their own.

Geoff Bennett: Well, when it comes to intervention, what works? How do you head off violence before it even happens?

Dr. Rob Gore: How do you head off violence before it happens? I think recognizing that it is occurring.

Some people experience violence so often that they don't even realize that it is a problem. They think this is something that just occurs in your community. And so the first thing is recognizing that the trauma that's taking place is not a normal act, is not a normal behavior, and figuring out what are the symptoms that you're experiencing.

If you're experiencing anxiety, depression, if you have already had preexisting mental illness, like depression or bipolar disorder, every subsequent trauma triggers that and makes it even worse. Then the next thing is to create systems — and this is more of the long-term approach, create — systems that help strengthen other supportive factors that can enhance your overall well-being, making sure that people have access to proper education, access to food, access to things that are going to allow them to thrive in a state so they can do really well, not just exist and not just live.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

How have you dealt with the cumulative stress of being on the front lines?

Dr. Rob Gore: That's a great question.

The book itself was really helpful for me, because, as an emergency physician, you see a lot of trauma, you see — you're in a stressful environment. The E.R. exists purely to deal with people who are in a distressed state.

And we aren't always taught to process what we have seen. We're taught to compartmentalize. We're taught to tuck it away, so that you can take care of the emergency at hand, and then, when you get some time, go back to it and reflect on it.

But there's not a really designated process to do that. Now I think people are starting to learn the language about trauma-informed care and trauma — and overall trauma and wellness practices, but it's not something that we're taught.

And so writing the book itself was a way to reflect on a lot of the stories and things that I have lived, things that I have seen, and people that I have treated as a way to kind of connect dots and come up with a — almost a template that I can share with other people who may be working in very similar spaces.

Geoff Bennett: Dr. Rob Gore. The book is "Treating Violence: An Emergency Room Doctor Takes on a Deadly American Epidemic."

Thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

Dr. Rob Gore: No, thank you so much, Geoff, yes.

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