Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in the United States, having surpassed motor vehicle accidents for the first time in history. While Robin Cogan, school nurse in the Camden City School District and clinical coordinator of the School Nurse Program at Rutgers University in Camden, has spent decades framing gun violence as a public health issue, an ongoing partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is enabling her to broaden her mission.
Cogan has spent the last year working with MGH to expand its gun violence prevention training program—initially piloted with physicians and in hospitals—to school nurses and school nurse students across the country. The goal is to equip current and future school nurses with the skills, self-efficacy, and knowledge of safety recommendations to promote gun violence prevention.
“We aim to work beyond the walls of the hospital for the most community impact,” Cogan said. “Schools are pivotal and integral parts of the community and microcosms of society. It made sense that the grant could expand to school nurses and frontline healthcare providers in the community who were also first responders to all school emergencies, including gun violence.”
Working with a team at MGH, Cogan conducted focus groups, individual interviews, and surveys of school nurses across the country to better understand their experiences with gun violence, ranging from firearm safety laws to safe gun storage. The team then used these preliminary insights to adapt MGH’s original curriculum to cater to school nurses. The training includes a didactic component on “red flags” or Extreme Risk Protection Order laws, safe storage options, and helping students identify situations in their own homes and communities that could put them at risk.
“The most important thing is not the content of the training, but having the time to get together and empower ourselves as agents of change instead of feeling powerless in the face of the epidemic of gun violence,” Cogan said.
Cogan and the team conclude their training with case scenarios that allow nurses to practice their response to real-world situations (for example, procedures for a student who is concerned about a family member's depression and access to a weapon).
To date, Cogan and her team have trained more than 40 school nurses and school nursing students, using a survey-based tool to assess trainees’ confidence in their firearm screening and counseling skills before and after the training. Their results showed participants placed emphasis on gun-safety screening and counseling for school nurses and felt significantly more comfortable exercising those skills post-training.
Last month, Cogan presented her findings to thousands of school nurses and future school nurses at the National Association of School Nurses’ annual conference. After her talk, a woman in the audience approached her to share her story as both the child of a violent offender and a school nurse who has been unsuccessfully lobbying for stronger school safety policies.
Inspired by stories like this one and bolstered by an extension of her partnership with MGH, Cogan said she is more determined than ever to empower those on the frontlines of this epidemic.
“We can never accept gun violence as inevitable because it is predictable and therefore, preventable. Imagine a school community that centers school connectedness and healing approaches, promoting environments where students flourish."
Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah