Climate change in medical curricula: A need for current and future physicians

Authors: Fabrizzio Canaval (Former VPM & RD Americas) & Hector Arroyo (LOME)



After years of work on development in medicine, in the last decade, the perspective of medicine moved from clinical to non-clinical care, getting broader perspectives based on the ongoing needs of the world that scaled up the focus on equity and health in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, leaving no one behind.

Furthermore, one phenomenon has been more evident in the course of time, which challenged us not just in terms of environmental health, but also in strengthening barriers and inequities. Of course, we are referring to climate change and its direct impact on health.

Health has evolved from an area restricted to physicians to an intersectoral approach in order to provide high quality care. One of the most important tools for the formative process is the medical curricula. Many topics are developed through it, however, we believe there is a lack of concrete outcomes when it comes to the non-clinical approach. As IFMSA we advocate for the improvement of the medical curricula, taking as priority the quality of education but at the same time the application of social accountability, aiming to enhance community’s health.

Climate change affects communities in different aspects. Many examples can be placed as in our region, The Americas, in 2017 in Perú, we experienced an unexpected “fenómeno de El Niño” producing strong rains in the coast of our country, affecting cities, agriculture fields and roads, leaving entire cities uncommunicated. The floods and mudslides destroyed the entire cities and brought diseases that we are struggling with even today. In line with this, many caribbean countries have been affected by strong hurricanes, affecting their tourist infrastructure (their main source of income). Last but not the least, gigantic forest fires in the amazonia of Brazil and Australia have affected people, land and fauna of these countries, impacting the health of its population and our planet.

Many organizations have expressed the imperative need to include climate change and health as part of the medical curricula, to spread awareness, understand the emergency approach and the primary healthcare focus. We need physicians that understand climate change as phenomenon and how it influences the development opportunities of society, especially of the vulnerable and neglected populations.

Teaching medical skills around climate change would benefit medical schools to strengthen the health system based on a public health perspective, and would train future doctors to advocate for the usage of more sustainable technologies at the community level and at hospitals (places that consume a lot of resources). It will strengthen our capacities to understand better the emerging transmissible diseases and prepare communities to face these kinds of situations by enhancing the preventive systems, improving health promotion, ensuring sustainability and reinforcing sustainable practices.

Medical Students must be the actors of change and IFMSA can be the platform to reach this goal by thinking globally and acting locally, promoting health equity and not leaving anyone behind.


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