Dr. Courtney Howard poses in Ndilo, N.W.T., near Yellowknife, in this undated handout photo. Canadian medical schools have not adequately addressed the urgent need for training related to planetary health and climate change, and members of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students say that must change. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Patrick Kane

Canadian medical students call for better education on health and climate change

‘We need an educational blitz that addresses medical and health practitioners at all levels’

Canadian medical schools have not adequately addressed the urgent need for training related to planetary health and climate change, and members of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students say that must change.

The growing health effects of climate change, such as the spread of Lyme disease and heat-related deaths, mean medical students must be prepared, the students’ group wrote in a comment for the Lancet’s Planetary Health journal last week.

The medical journal has indicated previously that climate change could be “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

“There is a fair amount of teaching already, but a lot of room for improvement,” said George Kitching, a third-year medical student at the University of Western Ontario. He is also the co-chair of the student federation’s health and environment adaptive task force, or HEART.

“The message everywhere is that medical school curriculum is jam-packed, so when you try and introduce a lecture on climate change impacts, you have to take something out.”

Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency physician in Yellowknife, disagrees with that approach.

Instead of adding and subtracting, planetary health and climate change must be integrated throughout the entire curricula, so health-care providers aren’t working in a silo, said Howard, who is also the board president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

ALSO READ: Experts say climate change is driving up the risk of wildfires in Canada

“We need an educational blitz that addresses medical and health practitioners at all levels.”

Otherwise, she said, doctors and health-care providers risk becoming disengaged and unprepared to protect people’s health amidst a changing climate.

The HEART team recently assessed how planetary health and climate change are being taught in Canada by compiling survey responses from nearly 50 students and 10 faculty members representing all 17 Canadian medical schools.

The results are mixed, said Kitching.

The University of Alberta, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and Dalhousie are identified as leaders, where environmental issues are covered at greater length through lectures, assignments and extracurricular opportunities.

By comparison, students at McGill and the University of Ottawa reported “brief” discussions during lectures on other topics, such as occupational health.

The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations has also called upon medical schools to integrate teaching related to climate change into their curricula by 2020.

Dr. Genevieve Moineau, president and CEO of the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, said there’s a clear indication that curricula must be focused on the needs of society and they’ll collaborate with medical students on climate and health.

The association will host a session on climate change at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education in Vancouver in April, Moineau added.

In addition to the survey, the HEART team created a set of core competencies to help guide curricula on planetary health, with topics including food and water insecurity, infectious diseases, displacement, emergency disaster risk, air pollution and green health care.

“The percentage of health that comes from what we do in a hospital is about 20 per cent of overall health,” said Howard.

“What actually makes up a large proportion of overall health outcomes comes from the ecological determinants of health,” which in turn underpin the social determinants of health, she said.

Social determinants of health include access to housing, utility services, social support networks, physical activity, food and safe transportation, according to the World Health Organization.

But medical students should still be prepared on how climate change could affect the delivery of care inside hospitals and clinics, said Howard.

The operating room in the Yellowknife hospital was closed for two weeks during a particularly bad fire season in 2014 because it was contaminated by smoke, she said, and at the same time, the hospital saw double the number of patients seeking care for asthma exacerbations.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria damaged medical manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico, causing a global shortage of normal saline used in intravenous fluids, Howard added.

“Right now, we’re headed for at least three or four degrees Celsius (warming) within the lifetimes of today’s children, and we simply don’t know what that means for health,” and health-care systems, she said.

“But it will be catastrophic.”

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo reminds Salmon Arm resident of connection to former drama teacher Justin Trudeau

Prime minister remembered as being as a funny, larger-than-life person

Dining moose a welcome distraction at Salmon Arm campus

Pair feast on willows, unperturbed by onlookers at Okanagan College

Woman convicted in Salmon Arm love triangle murder granted escorted temporary absences

Monica Sikorski was 17 when she plotted shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Myers

Shuswap’s water rescue crew preparing for frigid temperatures

New training follows Dec. 9 mission to help a man suffering health problems at remote cabin

Shuswap outdoor skating rinks open to public

Rinks in Celista and Silver Creek ready for outdoor fun

Canada to bolster screening of central China passengers for virus at 3 airports

Additional measures will include messaging on arrivals screens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

‘It’s still early’: Flu rates down so far this year at Interior Health

At Kelowna General Hosptial, there have been about 50 confirmed cases

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Coquihalla, Highway 3 to be hit with freezing rain, sparking warning to commuters

Hard to say when the freezing rain will turn to regular rainfall, Environment Canada says

‘Lift for Wills’ community fundraiser to support Penticton boy fighting cancer

This Sunday, stop by World Gym Penticton for by-donation drop-in classes, a silent auction, more.

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Princeton – a Prince Town in waiting?

The Town of Princeton has been waiting 160 years for a Royal… Continue reading

Most Read