28 November 2014

HYMS doctor shows how to train medical students to deal with environmental problems

Doctors need to be prepared to deal with new challenges posed by global environmental change, according to a new study led by a Hull York Medical School (HYMS) researcher.

A project to develop training for medical students in how to respond to the health effects of climate change - and reduce carbon emissions – is reported in The Lancet today.

The Sustainable Healthcare Education network -- a national network of researchers, co-led by Dr Sarah Walpole, a cardiology registrar and medical educationalist at HYMS  -- carried out the study.

The WHO estimate that 3.7 million people died due to air pollution in 2012. Flooding, heatwaves, colder temperature in winter and new infections such as dengue fever are among other challenges that will place increasing strain on healthcare systems.

The NHS is the largest public sector emitter of carbon, and its Carbon Reduction Strategy sets stringent goals for an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Today’s report in The Lancet highlights a key achievement of the Sustainable Healthcare Education network – a national consensus on environmental issues that must be addressed in medical school curricula.

The consensus document was created following a call from the General Medical Council for a national consultation on priorities for environmental issues in medical education.

HYMS carried out a review of its curriculum, which highlighted the need to address environmental issues. A new ‘Healthy Planet’ optional module has just run for the first time at HYMS and the medical school is now considering how best to incorporate the consensus into core medical student teaching.

The Sustainable Healthcare Education network, involves academics, doctors and medical students from around the UK. It works to introduce teaching about sustainable healthcare into the medical curriculum so that graduates are prepared to contribute to the coming changes in the NHS.

Dr Walpole said: “Health services cannot be blind to the impacts of environmental change. We need to train tomorrow’s doctors to lead on adapting to, and preventing, the worst health effects of environmental change. Doctors have a duty to protect and promote the health of the public. Climate change has been named the greatest health threat of the 21st century.

“Doctors have roles to play in addressing the threat of climate change; through advocacy, education about healthier and more sustainable practices and leadership to reduce the emissions of the health service.Our research outlines the key concepts that doctors need to understand about how to identify, adapt to and prevent the health effects of environmental change.

“We are working with the NHS to make significant reductions to its carbon footprint and improve patient outcomes at the same time.  We are preparing tomorrow’s doctors to lead the health system through a time of rapid environmental change.

“Students require the skills to improve the environmental sustainability of the health sector. This is not only about recycling, reducing waste and better prescribing practices. We need to develop better and more efficient models of care, focusing on prevention of chronic diseases and streamlining care.”

The Dean of HYMS, Professor Trevor Sheldon, said: "The increasing degradation of the environment is one of the major threats to the health of populations. Medical students need to understand the importance of environmental sustainability in promoting health, so that the medical profession can be effective in raising awareness of environmental threats to health and leading the search for solutions to ensure we have a sustainable and liveable future."

Article reference

'Learning objectives for sustainable health care’ is published in The Lancet, and the full set of learning objectives is available as a web appendix: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61659-7/abstract