Ana Toepel, Green Impact, June 2021
Student-Led Planetary Health Report Card Soars in Its Second Year
Last year we shared a story about the launch of the Planetary Health Report Card, an initiative developed by UCSF medical students that assesses medical schools on how well they address the intersection of health and the environment. Students created the initiative 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. Schools are assessed based on their performance in the following categories: 1) curriculum, 2) research, 3) support for student-led initiatives, 4) community outreach and advocacy, and 5) campus sustainability.
In its first year (2019-2020) the USCF student team succeeded in encouraging 12 other schools in the U.S. to participate in the assessment. This year (2020-2021) the reach of the initiative expanded by leaps and bounds—over 250 medical students at 62 medical schools in four countries participated! Karly Hampshire, a fourth year UCSF medical student and co-founder of the initiative, says that “it has been incredible to watch this initiative grow in just a couple years from a small pilot at UCSF and Stanford to an international initiative spanning four countries, and, more importantly, to watch the report card function as a catalyst for change. Almost all institutions that participated note the role of the report card in leading to what will likely be permanent progress in the institutional integration of planetary health.”
Filling an Unmet Need
When asked what the report card’s success might be attributed to, Hampshire shared, “I think people perceived the report card as helping to fulfill an unmet need, because after the inaugural one was published, we received a lot of messages from people at medical schools across the world wondering how they could participate.” She also shared that they were able to diversify the leadership team this year to include students at many different schools in several countries, which helped in recruiting schools over a broader geographical swath. They had two excellent partners, Medical Students for a Sustainable Future in the US and Students for Global Health in the UK, who promoted the initiative as well.
UCSF Improves Its Performance
This year’s efforts at UCSF were led by three first year medical students, Neha Pondicherry, Mikias Negussie, and Shreya Menon, who say that “it’s been really exciting to see all of the actions that UCSF is taking to make planetary health more of a prominent issue within the university. There’s a lot of room to grow, but we’re making a good start!”
UCSF improved its performance over the past year, increasing its overall score on the report card from a B in 2019-2020 to a B+ for 2020-2021. Out of all schools assessed in North America, the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and UCSF came in second and third respectively! The student team pointed out that UCSF has made progress, specifically, with regards to reducing its carbon footprint and educating students about how environmental health is an important aspect of a complete picture of human health. Still, the students say, “there are plenty of opportunities for the university to better advocate for the environmental health of the communities it serves in the Bay Area and beyond, including taking advantage of the audience it has with local, state, and federal policy makers.” Per the report card, to earn an A score, some of the actions UCSF’s School of Medicine would need to take are training students to have conversations with patients about the health effects of climate change, integrating planetary health topics more into the core curriculum rather than into elective courses, partnering with community organizations to promote planetary health, and providing regular communications to students about planetary health.
The Planetary Health Report Card’s leaders hope that the medical school will continue to show more robust support for student leadership on issues of climate and environmental health. To turn the report card findings into institutional change, the student organization Human Health + Climate Change is working together with the Office of Sustainability and other experts on these topics to draft ‘asks’ to share with the School of Medicine’s leaders that are shaped by information gleaned from the report card. The initiative’s student leaders are then hoping for an opportunity to meet with the administration to discuss the ‘asks’—and “think it will be interesting to see where things go from here.”
- Visit the Planetary Health Report Card website to learn more about the initiative and this year’s results, or review the 2020-2021 summary report.
- All UCSF students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to participate in some way! Join the UCSF Human Health + Climate Change student group or get involved in the EaRTH (Environmental Research and Translation for Health) Center, which hosts events and has membership and environmental health research opportunities.