Climate Change: a challenge yet to be tackled in medical schools

(European Parliament, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr. João Nuno da Rocha Oliveira Gomes , a medical student in the Faculty of Medicine of Porto University (FMUP). . He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The increasing knowledge and stablished scientific consensus on the impact of climate change has led to the recognition of it as a public health problem1. The World Health Organization has already dedicated its agenda to the study of the main pathways through which this effect is attained, having among the major concerns: i) severe weather events, ii) thermal stress, iii) vectors’ widespread of infectious diseases , iv) increased allergens production and v) significant drop in the quality of air2.

These negative aspects are threatening many of the advances in the development of health over the last century3, 4, however, they can also represent a lever to a necessary transformation towards a sustainable future5,6. In this line of thought, the role of the medical student, represents an opportunity as a potential gamechanger.

One also needs to be aware of the consequent shift in the intensity and distribution of health needs, considering both the regional and socio-economic differences. This will lead to a broad spectrum of demands, not only in the primary healthcare sector, but also in the emergency services. Being so, those needs might require clinicians from several disciplines to engage in this area, basing their practice on a system-focused and multidisciplinary approach. Therefore, students’ training under the framework of a constantly climate-changing world is a requirement, not only to manage, but also to identify the health risks that arise from this modification.

The promotion of eco-medical literacy, as described by Bell, might be part of the answer 7, however since we, as medical students, are standing in a privileged position, we must feel the moral responsibility of deepening the already existing knowledge in this area to better engage in the prevention and local health promotion.

There is no doubt that students are eager to learn and prepared to this adaptation. Although some medical schools offer climate change –related coursework’s, they are not by any means a standard requirement8 , reflecting the challenge that exists in introducing this component into the flooded / crowded medical schools’ curriculum. However, there is an increased window of opportunity to squeeze this topic into medical education due to its public debate and current momentum.

The sooner we act, the more harm we can prevent, however this is certainly a mid to long-term investment and the results, for now, can only be predicted. Nevertheless, I am certain that the medical student can (and will) be part of the solution to this arising problem.

References

  1. Green E. I. H., Blashki G., Berry H. L., et al (2009). Preparing Australian medical students for climate change. Australian Family Physician, 38: 726–729.
  2. Frumkin H., Hess J., Luber G., et al (2008). Climate Change: The Public Health Response. American Journal of Public Health, 98(3): 435-445.
  3. Maxwell J., Blashki G. (2016). Teaching About Climate Change in Medical Education: An Opportunity. Journal of Public Health Research, 5(1): 673.
  4. McMichael T., Montgomery H., Costello A. (2012). Health risks, present and future, from global climate change. BMJ, 344: 1359.
  5. Wang H., Horton R. (2015). Tackling climate change: the greatest opportunity for global health. The Lancet, 386(10006): 1798-1799.
  6. Faulkner K. (2016). Climate change: the challenge to medicine in the 21st century. Australian Medical Student Journal. As seen in: http://www.amsj.org/archives/5447
  7. Bell, E. J. (2010). Climate change: what competencies and which medical education and training approaches? BMC Medical Education, 10: 31.
  8. Friedrich M. (2017). Medical Community Gathers Steam to Tackle Climate’s Health Effects. JAMA. 317(15): 1511-1513.

About the author

João Nuno da Rocha Oliveira Gomes is studying in the 4th year of a Master Degree in the Faculty of Medicine of Porto University (FMUP). His interests are not only limited to the health care area but also include technology, sports, economy, social sciences, environment and management. Finalist in the 2016 Innovation Award promoted by Ageas insurer, president of the 5th European Parliament Recreation session that took place in Porto last April. João has widely developed his problem-solving and communication skills during his background in European Youth Parliament and European Parliament Recreation, accounting for the participation in a total of 8 sessions.

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