Medical Schools Now Moving to Teach Future Doctors to Address Climate Change August 9, 2019

In a healthy and welcome trend, physicians are persuading medical schools to teach the nation’s future doctors about the connection between climate and health, so our future health professionals are prepared to address the realities of the climate crisis’s impact on their patients and communities.

This past June, thanks to the fantastic work of PSR board member Dr. Todd Sack of PSR Florida, the American Medical Association adopted a sweeping new policy that commits the organization to promote education for medical students and physicians on the topic of the health threats from climate change. You can read more about it here.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Medical Schools Are Pushed to Train Doctors for Climate Change”, explored growing medical school climate education efforts, including those at University of California-San Francisco. WSJ interviewed Dr. Robert Gould, PSR board member and leader of PSR-San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, and SF Bay Area PSR Board Member Dr. Tom Newman, both of whom have been deeply involved with other UCSF colleagues to weave climate health into the overall medical curriculum.

In Florida, Dr. Lynn Ringenberg of PSR Florida and a former PSR board member, was instrumental in integrating climate-related health lectures into the University of South Florida-Tampa curriculum.  In addition, Ringenberg gave the inaugural lecture to 180 first-year medical students to introduce the topic. In her lecture, she linked climate change-related pollution to heart disease, one of the five topics covered during their Professions of Health (POH) introductory class. Four to five additional lectures are planned for this year, which will further link climate change and health science and integrate the topic into the existing Bachelor of Sciences curriculum.

The PSR student group at USF/Tampa also helped to make this happen, including by organizing students to attend the climate/health lectures. PSR is fortunate to have great student leaders at USF-Tampa and Florida International University-Miami and welcomes the addition of more students leaders in the near future.

Dr. Lauren Zajac, another member of the PSR board, connected Dr. Ringenberg with her own colleagues at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. In her PSR board role as advisor to the Emerging Leaders Council (ELC), Dr. Zajac is well-positioned to encourage dynamic young medical students to push for similar curricular reform in their own medical schools.  Among them is ELC co-leader Christian Cayon, who played a key role in the effort at Mt. Sinai to integrate climate health into the medical curriculum there. You can read about those efforts in his op-ed in Common Dreams here. PSR ELC co-leader and PSR board member Autumn Vogel also authored a piece about the need to address climate change as part of medical school curricula.

PSR applauds all of our chapters around the country that have been working effectively to persuade medical schools to incorporate climate education. One of the core goals of PSR’s environment and health program is to achieve broader recognition among health professionals of the fact that climate change is a health emergency. Educating and empowering future health professionals by providing them with curricula that prepare them to address the health impacts of climate change is key.  After all, today’s future health professionals will be entering medical practice during the growing climate crisis. Their patients’ health and well-being is at stake.

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