Deemed the greatest threat to global health of the 21st century by the World Health Organization, climate change and its effects on human health and on emerging diseases have become increasingly prevalent. As a result, there is a critical need to prepare physicians, in Canada and around the globe, to provide care in a climate crisis. This starts with strengthening our medical education.
A team of medical students mobilized to develop a tool to ensure the gravity of the climate crisis could receive greater attention within the medical curriculum. Collaborating with a passionate group of fellow medical students at McGill (Mack Blydt-Hansen, Anda Gaita, Tania Morin, Alexander Valerio, Xena Wang, Liam Cooper-Brown, Anne-Sophie Roy, Jessica Benady-Chorney), as well as University of Calgary Planetary Health leaders Celia Walker and Nicole Prince, we created Climate Wise, an online, open-access repository of slides teaching planetary health, designed to be integrated into medical school lectures throughout pre-clerkship and clerkship.
The undergraduate medical curriculum at McGill, being organ systems-based, allows for longitudinal integration of content illustrating the links between planetary health and human health. Opportunities to engage with planetary health-related content range from educating students on how to manage the increasing rates of heat-related illness from rising global temperatures to caring for patients with exacerbations of respiratory disease from air pollution and wildfire smoke.
Easily accessible online, the Climate Wise slides can be consulted by medical educators and integrated into the system or specialty that they teach. For instance, when teaching about acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease, the slide discussing the impact of extreme heat events on kidney disease could be seamlessly included to prepare students to counsel their patients with multimorbidity to avoid kidney injury during heatwaves.
There is an urgent need to decarbonize healthcare. Canadian healthcare is responsible for about 4.6% of national emissions and future physicians need to be taught about opportunities to practice high-quality care on a smaller carbon footprint. The slides also allow for the teaching of evidence-based approaches to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare. This includes selecting dry-powdered instead of metered-dose inhalers for the management of respiratory diseases and avoiding desflurane and opting for intravenous anesthesia when administering anesthesia in the operating room.
Faculty and institutional bodies such as the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) are starting to respond to the need for planetary health curricula. The Medical Council of Canada has recently added “Health and the Climate Crisis” to the list of objectives medical students must meet to graduate as competent physicians. The objective states “Physicians must be able to recognize the effects of the climate crisis (climate change) on human health and take action to mitigate both climate change itself and its health effects on the population, recognizing that many populations are disproportionately affected.” However, teaching on the impacts of climate change on our health and ways to mitigate its impacts continues to be inadequate at medical schools across Canada.
The most recent Canadian Federation of Medical Students Health and Environment (CFMS HEART) report, [of which Owen was one of the lead authors], documents a survey of the planetary health curricula at all 17 Canadian medical schools. The survey found that only three provided longitudinal planetary health learning opportunities spanning the pre-clerkship and clerkship continuum and outlined nine key recommendations for medical schools including, “With student and faculty input, work to develop specific longitudinal learning objectives for engaging planetary health education throughout the duration of medical education”.
The Climate Wise slides address this educational gap and responds to the urgent need for evidence based, longitudinal, clinically relevant material that can be rapidly incorporated into medical curricula. The slides will be distributed to medical school deans and educators across the country through local student representatives of the CFMS HEART Committee. Universal implementation of the Climate Wise slides ensures that planetary health teaching is being adequately represented in medical curricula to equip all Canadian physicians with the knowledge and skills to care for patients and communities in a climate crisis.
To learn more about this initiative and how you can contribute to this critical human challenge, visit: https://www.cwslides.com/