Engaging the (Firearm) Safety

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Cathy Zhang, COL ’19

cz1This summer, I spent ten weeks interning with the Trauma Injury Prevention Program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. As an injury prevention intern, I spent my first couple weeks learning the fundamental theories and practices behind injury prevention and assisting in fieldwork ranging from community health fairs to reading to preschoolers about pedestrian safety.

Aside from working at health fairs and talking to children about injury prevention, my primary project this summer was writing a best practice guide for preventing pediatric firearm suicides. Although suicides are typically addressed by behavioral health departments in hospitals, gunshot wounds fall under trauma, and an increase in gunshot wounds due to suicide attempts indicated a need for greater prevention efforts. The recent increase in firearm suicide attempts is not unique to the Middle Tennessee region. Although much national attention has been placed on interpersonal gun violence in the last two years, the rate of firearm homicides has actually been decreasing, while firearm suicides have been increasing.

My objective in writing the best practice guide was to assess the current state of preventive efforts at Vanderbilt and other hospitals and organizations throughout the nation in order to determine how the pediatric trauma department could enhance its suicide prevention efforts. This process involved emailing and meeting with physicians, injury prevention specialists, and activists from a variety of organizations, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to learn about their suicide prevention efforts.

One of my favorite meetings was with the policy director of the Safe Tennessee Project, an organization dedicated to addressing issues of gun-related injuries from a public health standpoint. During our meeting I learned about previous efforts in the state to pass legislation that would encourage safe firearm storage in homes with children, as well as how political image in election years and NRA lobbying impacted the ultimate failure of such bills. Nursing and Health and Societies courses at Penn often emphasize the importance of following healthcare legislation, but this experience helped me grasp how legal policies and interest groups beyond the realm of healthcare impact public health.


In addition to writing the best practice guide, I was also given the chance to review and revise a firearm safety course for elementary and middle school students that previous interns had developed for the Injury Prevention Program. I also wrote safety articles for the department’s quarterly newsletter and monthly safety topics throughout the summer and helped implement a teen driver safety program designed by the department. The combination of outreach work and research that this internship offered made this summer an extremely educational and fulfilling experience for me. The opportunity to interact with community members, healthcare professionals, and policy advocates broadened my perspective of preventive healthcare and gave me a glimpse of its complexity. This was the most engaging introduction to public health I could have hoped for, and I am deeply grateful to Career Services for making it possible.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.