Since 1993, Amy Goldberg has been a trauma surgeon at Temple University Hospital, which has the distinction of treating more gunshot patients than any other hospital in the state. Last year, there were 747, up from 576 the year before.
Goldberg, a native of Broomall who went to the University of Pennsylvania and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says she’s treated thousands here, in rare cases those who have been shot on more than one occasion. And though Goldberg and Scott Charles, Temple’s trauma outreach manager, over the last 15 years have started programs to advocate for and assist victims, educate schoolchildren about gun violence, and train community members on how to provide first aid to gunshot victims, they have watched as the city’s gun violence has escalated again this past year.
In the early hours of New Year’s Day, after two were killed and 12 injured in three separate shootings — one of them near Temple’s campus — Goldberg tweeted: “Last night was an abomination in our city. Our community is dying. Where is the outrage ... from everyone?”
We sat down with Goldberg and Charles, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, to talk about that tweet, her work as both a surgeon and more recently the interim dean of Temple’s medical school, and what she would like to see from Philadelphians in response to the violence epidemic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What prompted you to tweet that?
Goldberg: I was just so angry, as we all should be. The number of homicides are outrageous, more than ever. I just couldn’t understand. We need to be moved. What’s it going to take [for] us to be moved to do something?
I’m a Broad Street runner, so I know that Temple Hospital is mile marker 2 and City Hall is mile marker 6, and within four short miles all of this violence is going on. Where was that outrage?
Can you set me in that moment before you decided to type that tweet?
Goldberg: So I do have a communication team. I write my tweets and off they go. And off it went, “Hope everybody has a good new year.” And then I turned on the news. And I thought I can’t leave that tweet out there. I called up Scott: “‘It can’t be like a tone-deaf tweet on New Year’s Day.’”
How could the trauma surgeon for 30 years in North Philadelphia put out a goddamn tone-deaf tweet?
So did you remove that tweet?
And then you put out?
Goldberg: What I felt.
What reaction did you get to the tweet?
Goldberg: Some people were supportive and other people thought I was just pointing fingers and blaming people. I wasn’t. I wasn’t blaming police and I wasn’t blaming [District Attorney Larry] Krasner. I wanted this to be a call for sustained action ... that all of us should care about what’s going on.
Charles: I’m proud of the fact that she sent that tweet, because I think there have been a lot of people standing on the sidelines. ... What she’s going to succeed in doing is emboldening a lot of people.
Did you hear anything that led you to believe that tweet was going to make a difference?
Goldberg: Do you think any tweet, that something happens from tweets?
Well, I’m here interviewing you. What would you like to see from people, from city leaders, residents, everyone?
Goldberg: The attention to the issue shouldn’t wax and wane. It’s like maybe The Inquirer should keep track of what we’re doing every day to solve this, as we would in our units that we work in. We need to work on more gun laws that make sense. ... It just can’t be so easy to get a gun.
Then the issue of poverty and structural racism in the city. All of these things need to be addressed.
Any way of estimating how many gunshot victims you’ve treated over the years?
Goldberg: There are so many. Thousands. It’s just relentless.
Can you talk about one of your early cases?
Goldberg: When I was a fellow, my first big case was a 16-year-old who got shot. I saw him in the clinic. He wasn’t in school and then I realized that we hadn’t really provided any services to help him. We just did this operation and took good care of him, got him eating and walking, but I wasn’t really sure we helped him the best we could, and I kept that in my mind ... to when Scott and I met.
What was your most recent case?
Goldberg: Before Christmas, three people came in all at once, 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds. One of them needed an operation. A big blood-vessel injury. The patients are younger and younger.
Charles: The thing that sets the last few years apart, since the pandemic, is how many women, how many children. You hear this from guys who are also engaged in the streets. They lament the loss of the code that used to protect women and children from gun violence.
The way the numbers spiked in 2020 is just insane. It feels like you’re digging a hole in sand sometimes. We’ve been doing this a very, very long time, having these same conversations.
Goldberg: And it’s worse. Here we are all these years later, and it’s now worse. Trauma surgeons know that maybe Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays are busy days, nights busier than days, and now it doesn’t matter what day of the week or what time of day. It doesn’t matter at all.
But we are doing so much more for the patients. We’re so fortunate that now we really are providing those services to our patients that I wanted to all those years ago for that 16-year-old boy.
How has this affected you cumulatively through the years?
Goldberg: Probably a little PTSD.
Is the medical school doing anything different to respond to the uptick in violence?
Goldberg: We are going to try to develop a center within the school, a center for violence prevention intervention. We have some great programs within the medical school and the hospital. Now that I sit in the interim dean position, we’re going to bring these programs from both sides of the street together and be more unified.
Charles: It really does feel like a make-or-break moment.
If you could ask every person in the city to do something, what would you ask them to do?
Goldberg: Care. We could ask every person to care about this issue, to be moved by this issue, and to not think that this is OK and to speak for people who aren’t spoken for.