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Letters to the Editor

Environmental Amnesia: Climate Change and Medical Education

Young, Jason D.

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003184
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To the Editor:

Overwhelming evidence supports the existence of climate change. Given its health implications, I would assume the field of medicine would be leading the charge against this threat to the security and well-being of billions of people. Yet, medicine, especially medical education, has met this humanitarian and ecological crisis with the deafening roar of institutional silence.

I believe medical education institutions have demonstrated—if not willful ignorance of the problem—a pervasive elision of the subject in the cost–benefit analysis of curricula nationwide. My experience as a student has been that any institutional acknowledgment of climate change has been as a political or social problem, not a clinical one.

A shameful consequence of this curricular exclusion is how we, the students, are affected. When discussions about the environmental and clinical consequences of climate change are never broached, medical educators do nothing to inform us, the next generation of doctors, about our responsibilities as future providers and citizens of the planet. And that is a shame. The words of physicians carry tremendous weight; as such, we can, and should, be prepared to serve as leaders in the fight against climate change to protect the health of our world as a means to ensure the well-being of humanity.

Thankfully, we know potential solutions already exist. These run the gamut from adding climate science topics to preclinical teaching to incorporating climate change discussions into clinical decision making on the wards and providing opportunities for research and advocacy.1,2 However, the failure of medical education institutions to widely implement these concrete steps speaks to a lack of recognition of the problem’s magnitude.

Achieving an impactful, sustainable integration of climate change awareness into clinical teaching and practice will require systematic buy-in from students, clinicians, and institutions. Should the status quo persist, we risk jeopardizing medicine’s future response to what will be unfathomable human suffering on a global scale.

If in the not-too-distant future, the latter should occur, what shall we, tomorrow’s doctors, do? What shall we say to our patients, our leaders, our communities? What can we say?

Our silence will be damning.

Jason D. Young
Fourth-year medical student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Jason_Young@hms.harvard.edu; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9718-1797.

References

1. Maxwell J, Blashki G. Teaching about climate change in medical education: An opportunity. J Public Health Res. 2016;5:673.
2. Wellbery C, Sheffield P, Timmireddy K, Sarfaty M, Teherani A, Fallar R. It’s time for medical schools to introduce climate change into their curricula. Acad Med. 2018;93:1774–1777.
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