Fear or Connection: What every healthcare professional must decide in the days following the Las Vegas shootings

"The only consistent in life is change." Change can mark a longed-for transition--we look forward to changing from kids to adults, from students to professionals. Change is necessary for growth, and without it we wouldn’t be able to serve each other the way we do now.  Like the changing of seasons, a change is sometimes needed to transition into something else.

However, while some changes are beautiful and anticipated, changes can also be traumatic, unexpected, devastating. Every American was changed by the mass shooting last week in Las Vegas. Whether for a moment or for a lifetime, the news of the horrific injuries and loss of life—59 killed and 515 injured at the time of this writing—causes each of us to determine where we stand on the issue of firearm regulations, of the treatment of the mentally ill, of what we’re willing to accept or speak out against. Our American history was changed in a moment, and we are left to determine how we are going to grow.

Image: David Becker/Getty Images

As medical professionals, we see tragedy from the inside. We are among the first to speak, talk to and touch the victims after the event. We are the ones on the front lines, when the shock is palpable, the emotion is raw, and the outcome is uncertain. We are called in this moment to provide answers we don’t know, courage we can’t guarantee, and sometimes hope we can’t feel. The strength, determination and courage shown by the medical teams in Las Vegas were incredible, and they continue to treat and heal these victims today.

 After the tragedies of Sandy Hook, the Pulse Nightclub, and now Las Vegas, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain the idea that we are truly making a difference in the world. The victims in Las Vegas were at the height of community, sharing a common bond of music to unite and celebrate. This was a “safe” venue, precautions were taken…and yet the unthinkable happened.  We can be filled with a sense of dread that mass tragedy can happen at any moment, and we are powerless to stop it.

What do we do with this unexpected, tragic change in our American history, and how do we choose to grow as a result of this experience?

Growing in fear is not the answer for us as medical professionals. Courage is embedded within us. We call on our courage daily in our own practice and we watched as courage overcame chaos in Las Vegas. We watched first responders jumping into action to provide immediate assistance, total strangers driving wounded victims to hospitals, doctors, nurses and medical staff working hours on end in blood-smeared hallways to give their time and talents to the victims—maybe you were one of those angels in scrubs. This change was not meant for us to transition more deeply into fear. The world needs us to show courage in the face of our uncertainty.

Should we grow in hate? We go into healthcare because of our empathy, our ability to connect with people and feel their struggles to help treat them. By nature, we fight those things that threaten to harm and destroy those that are in our care, whether it is an infection, a behavior, or an event. It is easy to be filled with hate for the shooter in Las Vegas, and sometimes even for those we feel might be contributing to circumstances that led to the event. However, the immediate images flashing across social media and our televisions showed the best of humanity as the concertgoers immediately began to think of others, sometimes complete strangers, above themselves. The outpouring of support saw no race, no religion, no political bent—it was pure and true and from the heart. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, hate truly drove out hate in that moment. Surely this change is not meant to provide a transition more deeply into hate.

We work in the area of miracles and of modern medicine. We do not give up when situations look hopeless. We dig in, conduct research, discuss options as a team and choose the best path to moving forward. Our nation is currently in a state of shock, and it’s time to come together using our influence as caregivers and providers to provide a path forward for those who are hurting. It’s what we have been trained to do.

In her book Braving the Wilderness, social scientist and bestselling author Brené Brown describes the importance of this moment for potential healing: “In a hardwired way, the initial trauma and devastation of violence unites human beings for a relatively short period of time. If during that initial period of unity we’re allowed to talk openly about our collective grief and fear—if we turn to one another in a vulnerable and loving way, while at the same time seeking justice and accountability—it can be the start to a very long healing process. If, however, what unites us is a combination of shared hatred and stifled fear that’s eventually expressed as blame, we’re in trouble.”

Whether you feel it or not, you as a medical professional are ready for this change, for this challenge. Your education and your experience, as well as your empathy, have prepared you to get comfortable with discomfort, to have truthful conversations with people of all views, and to listen without judgement. In Brown’s words, “we can build connection across difference and fight for our own beliefs if we’re willing to listen and lean into vulnerability. Mercifully, it will take only a critical mass of people who believe in finding love and connection across difference to change everything.”

Are you willing to use the specific talents and gifts bestowed upon you as a medical professional to make a difference in the lives of others at this crucial moment? Can you see this change in our history as an opportunity for connection and healing? Will you be determined to treat infections of hate and fear with the antibiotics of love and vulnerability?

If so, throw on your scrubs and don't bother clocking in…our shift is starting right NOW.

Holly Godfrey
Holly Godfrey


Holly is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst Scrubs, an online fair trade medical apparel and accessory company that gives sustainable jobs to women in need around the world. Holly is a speech pathologist, social justice advocate and sought-after speaker. She lives with her husband Jim, their three children and a menagerie of pets in Lee's Summit, MO.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.