The growing need for instruction on environmental health and climate change has not been given sufficient consideration by Canadian medical schools, and members of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students say that must change.
Climate change’s the health effects, such as the spread of Lyme disease and heat-related deaths, suggest that medical students need to be prepared, the student group wrote last week in a commentary on Lancet’s Planetary Health magazine
The medical journal has earlier indicated that climate change “could be the 21st century’s greatest global health threat.”
“There’s already a fair amount of instruction, but there’s plenty of room for improvement,” said George Kitching, a third year medical student at Western Ontario University. He is also the co-chair of the student federation’s Adaptive Health and Environment task force, or HEART.
“The idea is that the medical school curriculum is complete anywhere, so if you’re trying to give a lecture on the impacts of climate change, you need to get something out of it.” Dr. Courtney Howard, a Yellowknife emergency doctor, disagrees with that approach.
Planetary health and climate change should be integrated into entire curricula instead of adding and subtracting, so health care providers don’t work in a silo, said Howard, who is also the chairman of the Canadian Society of Environmental Physicians.
“We need an outreach campaign that applies to health and medical practitioners at all rates.” Otherwise, she said, physicians and nurses run the risk of shutting off and being unprepared to protect human health in a changing climate.
By collecting survey responses from nearly 50 students and 10 faculty members representing all 17 Canadian medical schools, the HEART team recently assessed how planetary health and climate change are taught in Canada.
Kitching said the results are mixed.
The University of Alberta, the School of Medicine and Dalhousie in Northern Ontario are listed as pioneers, where environmental issues are discussed in greater detail through workshops, assignments, and extracurricular opportunities.
For comparison: During short lectures, students from McGill and the University of Ottawa recorded’ short’ conversations on other topics including occupational health.