This is part two of our two-part series on climate change education within population and public health curricula. Read part one here.
In the first blog post, we considered if accredited public health programs (n=184) were incorporating climate change into their programs at the concentration or course levels. Short answer: no. During the period of inquiry, none of the programs had a concentration in climate change. Two programs had certificates in climate change, but these were additional to a master’s degree. Three programs had specific courses in climate change through a global health track. Yet 46% of the institutions had graduate courses in climate change in other disciplines, including environmental science. These courses were not cross listed as courses that MPH students could take as part of their public health program.
Public health is indicative of other health disciplines like medicine, nursing, and pharmacy that do not include climate change as part of their curriculum. So how can we incorporate climate change into health curricula? Below we describe four possible stages of inclusion.
Stage 1 would incorporate climate change into existing courses, with at least three class sessions having a climate change focus. In public health classes, climate change can be included in any of the five sciences that make up the discipline. In healthcare, climate change can be added to existing health courses that focus on infectious diseases, chronic diseases, occupational exposures, and mental health. For example, mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Disease could be discussed through a climate lens. Another suggestion would be to cross-list existing courses in other disciplines as electives for students to take as part of their programs. Finally, a dedicated climate change course could be required for all health professionals regardless of discipline.
Stage 2 would develop concentrations in climate change and health that focus on four key areas: the science of climate change, its health impacts, communicating about climate change, and potential responses/solutions for patients. Concentrations could be interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary, with health professional students taking courses together, sharing resources and ideas on how climate change will affect their discipline and how other professionals can be supportive of efforts to protect the health of populations.
Stage 3 would expand climate concentrations to include certificate programs. With only two currently in public health, there is ample opportunity to expand certificates among public health, nursing, medicine, and pharmacy programs. Certificate programs offer opportunities to enhance the skills of the existing workforce and prepare them for effects of climate change, but do not require a full degree. These certificates could help practitioners to build capacity within the workforce as well as help institutions to plan for climate change related health challenges.
Stage 4 would add climate change into accreditation processes. Educational programs have little incentive to include climate change unless it’s part of their accrediting body’s requirements. Currently, climate change is not specified as part of a health program’s accreditation. To prepare competent practitioners, climate change needs to be part of every health curriculum. Accreditation standards need to be developed and included as part of a standardized healthcare and public health curricula.
A focus on solutions to the population health consequences of climate change is critical across these stages of integration. Since climate change is an all-encompassing topic, suggesting solutions helps people manage the subject and reduce potential despair and inaction. For example, Project Drawdown provides 100 solutions that could be enacted currently to address climate changes from different perspectives, like economic, educational, and energy. Reframing these solutions through a health lens would help provide practitioners with opportunities to see how their efforts could be impactful.
Climate will change everything. We can no longer pretend that health will not be affected. Taking a proactive stance to train future generations of healthcare providers is essential to adapting to our changing climate. Let’s get moving.