Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, January 2017

Integrating Environmental Sustainability & Climate Change Issues into UCSF’s Curriculum

On a stormy day in December, post-election, 19 dedicated sustainability advocates from the UCSF professional schools (nursing, medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry) and graduate divisions braved wind and rain to gather for the second Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) Workshop. The focus of this second meeting was to share updates on specific programs, strategies, and ideas for integrating sustainability and climate change into UCSF’s curriculum.  The workshop was the culmination of 18 months of work from the UCSF Academic Senate Sustainability Committee. The sense of urgency and commitment was palpable in the room. One participant commented during introductions, “My sense of urgency is highlighted after the election.”

arianneThe first UCSF CNI Workshop, held May 2016, was designed and led by Dr. Arianne Teherani, PhD Professor of Medicine and educational researcher in the Center for Faculty Educators and a Faculty Climate Action Champion and Dr. Sheri Weiser, Associate Professor of Medicine, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and School of Medicine. In 2016, Dr. Teherani was awarded The Faculty Climate Action Champion Award for her research project on developing a new curriculum for health professionals that takes into account sustainability issues on health. The seeds she planted have grown into a range of exciting initiatives for 2017 and beyond. “Our goal is to educate students, engage and inspire students, and encourage faculty to incorporate climate change and sustainability into their teaching,” explained Dr. Teherani.

Incorporating Sustainability and Climate Change

The presentations at the meeting highlighted many successes. New courses have been created. Interactive seminars planned. Sustainability and climate change issues have been integrated into existing curriculum. Highlights included:

  • Dr. Robert Gould, President of the San Francisco-Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and Associate Adjunct Professor with the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), spoke about an elective titled “Women’s Health, the Environment, and Health Professional Activism” that was organized through the Dept. of Ob-Gyn for UCSF students over the last two semesters, and which will be continuing in 2017. The most recent course incorporated classes including examining healthy food systems, environmental exposures and pregnancy, and the ecology of breast cancer.

  • Dr. Dorie Apollonio, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, and Dr. Katherine Gruenberg , PharmMD and BCPS, spoke about teaching sustainability at the School of Pharmacy. Issues of waste reduction and pharmaceutical lifecycle analysis are being integrated into the existing Health Policy (CP 133) course. Topics include inventory management, formulary selection, preparation, dispensing, and disposal through a sustainability lens.

  • Dr. Jim Seward, Clinical Professor of Medicine, spoke about the Global Health Sciences (GHS202B) course that incorporates climate change learning objectives. The course will include interactive seminars on climate change and food security and the management of extreme weather scenarios. Students will develop a proposal for a defined policy maker on mitigation or adaptation of a health-related climate change issue.

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  • Dr. Stan Glantz, UCSF Professor of Medicine, teaches an introductory statistics class where he includes a discussion on how you can lie with statistics by manipulating regression models. He teaches students about the similarities between the strategies used by the tobacco industry and by deniers of climate change and how higher education can advocate for climate change awareness and action.

  • Dr. Thomas Newman, Professor, UCSF School of Medicine, spoke about the new Climate Change Inquiry Course he created in partnership with Drs. Teherani, Bardach, and Weiser. The course will focus on the question “What should physicians know and do about climate change, sustainability, and health?” It incorporates a range of issues including environmental externalities, global health, environmental justice, carbon footprints, health effects of climate change, and effect of diet on climate change and health and incorporates climate-related movies, including An Inconvenient Truth and Merchants of Doubt.

  • Dr. Naomi Bardach, Associate Professor, UCSF School of Medicine,  spoke about how elements of climate change and sustainability will be incorporated into Health and Society, a required course for first year medical students. The goal is to incorporate into weeks three and four an inquiry case on global climate change.

Becoming Climate Action Advocates

At one point at the meeting a participant joked, “We are all going to be accused of being climate action advocates,” a role scientists and professors aren’t always comfortable with. Meeting participants Dr. Newman and Dr. Gould shared that in mid-December they put on their white coats and took to the streets of San Francisco to participate in the ‘rally to stand up for science’.

The role of climate action advocate might become part of all our jobs. UCSF just signed a letter to President-elect Trump and Members of the United States Congress, stressing higher education’s academic and ethical responsibility to take climate action and support interdisciplinary climate education.

Resources for Learning More

UC Climate and Sustainability Education Resource Library
Physicians Guide to Climate Change, Health and Equity
The EcoMedicine Project
Environmental Health From Clinic to Community, San Francisco Medicine
Climate Change and Health: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians