UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, February 2020

New Inquiry Immersion Course Prepares Students to Tackle the Climate-Health Connection

Last month, students from UCSF’s School of Medicine and School of Pharmacy spent two weeks exploring what health professionals should know and do about climate change, sustainability, and health. The students made an inspiring video about what they learned, demonstrating the great impact the course had on them. This 2019-2020 inquiry immersion, “Climate Change and Health Mini Course,” was co-directed by Arianne Teherani, PhD, Professor of Medicine; Tom Newman, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology & Biostatistics; and Sheri Weiser, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine. The course addressed how the environment and climate change impact health, how the health care system impacts the environment, and what is needed to advocate for policies and interventions that mitigate climate change and other environmental health threats.

Students Learn How Climate Change Impacts Health Care

Stephanie Phung, PharmD Candidate, took the course to better understand medical waste production and ways to reduce it. She was also interested in learning about how climate change impacts health. PharmD Candidates Sheila Mohebbi and Elise Nguyen wanted to learn how they could have a positive impact on a larger scale, such as making health care greener and advocating for policies that decrease its contributions to climate change. “I wanted to learn more about the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations,” explained Mohebbi. Emma McCune, a first year medical student, stressed, “I wanted to learn how I can use my eventual platform as a physician to advocate for protecting those most affected by climate change.”

A key take-away from the course for Phung was that the regulations we currently have to reduce the effects of climate change are inadequate. She also learned that medications are being found in the environment because of improper disposal and how that affects ecosystems. “I want to challenge all health professionals to engage in conversations with their patients about where expired, excess, or unused medications are going and provide them with information on how they can properly dispose of them.”

“It’s clear that every healthcare professional will encounter patients with conditions due to climate change,” exclaimed Nguyen. McCune also anticipates that many of her patients will suffer from illness or trauma related to climate change. Because of these likely realities, the students believe it’s important to change health policy to prevent problems before they happen and maybe even decrease the rate of climate change.

Course Responds to Need for More Climate-Health Curriculum

Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, expressed the importance of training students to treat patients affected by climate change. “They have picked a career that’s on the front lines to save lives during the climate crisis,” she stated. Dr. Weiser agrees, and noted that “there is a growing student interest at UCSF and an unmet need for more teaching, research, and projects on climate health.” Dr. Teherani also has observed this student interest: “Our students care deeply about the Earth’s future and their role as health professionals. They think at a deep level about the crisis and potential solutions. And they believe in bringing about change.”

Take Action

  • Learn more about Climate Health Now, a climate advocacy group for Bay Area health care professionals and students. Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to ask questions or to join their Slack channel.
  • View the Livestream recording of the Climate Change and Health Advocacy Skill-Up Workshop
  • View the video created by the students in the course.
  • Check out the American Lung Association in California “Doctors for Climate Health” campaign.