Feature Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, August 2020

Medical Students Score Their Schools on Planetary Health—the Results Are In!

Earlier this year we shared a story on the Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC), an initiative started by UCSF medical students that assesses medical schools on how well they address the intersection of health and the environment. The UCSF student team is excited to announce the results of the first annual PHRC and that they were able to expand the effort to twelve other schools in the U.S. to participate in the assessment. UCSF earned a B average for its score, and all of the schools landed in the B-C range. One of the report card’s creators, Karly Hampshire, a 4th year medical student at UCSF, noted that scoring in the B-C range corresponds to receiving scores of 40%-79%, so schools still have a lot of room for growth—and the report card can help identify what to target for improvement.

The initiative was created to inspire medical schools to introduce climate change and planetary health into the curriculum, expand research efforts, engage with communities most affected by climate change and environmental injustice, and support passionate medical students who are trying to organize around planetary health at the institutional level. Scores are given by assessing a school’s performance related to health and the environment in four main categories: 1) curriculum, 2) research, 3) support for student initiatives, and 4) community outreach and advocacy. UCSF’s student team introduced the report card to other schools, and they “encouraged students to engage as many students, faculty, and administrators as possible in the assessment process to increase the accuracy of results and begin to create change through the implementation process.”

UCSF’s Scores Can Drive Positive Change

UCSF scored highest (B+) in the category “support for student lead initiatives.” This was a trend among all the schools that were scored, and Hampshire suggested this is likely because most medical schools are part of larger universities, which gives them access to resources that are offered to the student body at large. This may also explain why schools tended to do better in the research category as well.
Curriculum, on the other hand, is inherently medical-school-specific, so those metrics cannot be met by planetary health resources elsewhere in the university. UCSF likely earned a B in this category because it has a wealth of planetary health elective offerings but hasn’t yet integrated these concepts into the core curriculum. For Hampshire and another co-founder of the initiative, Bennet Kissel, one of their goals for the initiative was to see climate change more deeply integrated into UCSF’s first- and second-year curriculum. Hampshire noted, “A few faculty members just recently received a curriculum grant to help with this integration, so we are hopeful for change in this area.”

UCSF also earned a B in the “community outreach and advocacy” category, where most schools scored lower than they did in other categories—in both cases, this is likely due to the fact that the traditional training model for physicians does not include advocacy. Kissel hoped that an outcome of the initiative would be that students receive training on how to talk with patients about the climate crisis.

Another of Hampshire and Kissel’s goals was to aid in the creation of an Earth Center. They explained this concept: “We identified a lot of incredible planetary health work by people throughout the university, but recognized that there was not a multidisciplinary center or institute to centralize planetary health and climate work, essential to unify these siloed efforts.” The good news is that there are plans in the works to launch this kind of center at UCSF.

The Report Card Has a Bright Future Ahead

Hampshire shared that “based on feedback from the 13 schools that participated this year, it is clear that the report card can be a helpful aid for student-led activism when applied thoughtfully.” Students from participating schools felt that it was a useful tool for identifying gaps in planetary health, crafting specific “asks” for faculty and administrators, and starting conversations around these topics. Several students also mentioned that the report card process allowed them to identify available planetary health opportunities that they didn’t know about. A testament to the report card’s success is that everyone who provided feedback said they would participate again in future years. As Jack Inglis, a medical student at University of Minnesota, reported, “It is up to students to hold our institutions accountable. The PHRC will be a great tool for current and future environmental leaders at my institution to track change and advocate for initiatives in deficient areas.”

Hampshire says that the team “plans to build on this foundation and refine our metrics, process, and scope in order to increase our impact in the years to come.” She added, “We intend for this report card to be an annual publication in order to track institutional change over time.” They already have 25 schools in the U.S. and UK interested for next year!

Take Action

  • The PHRC team is now actively recruiting for the 2020-2021 Report Card. Reach out to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you’re a medical student interested in participating.
  • If you’re planning a talk or lecture, consider the intersections your topic might have with climate change/planetary health—and include them in your presentation.
  • Check out the planetary health report card website. It has a robust resources section for research, organizations, and education related to planetary health.