Global Survey Identifies Learning Opportunities Related to the Health Impacts of Climate Change

May 28, 2020

An international survey of Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) membership found that the majority of members—health professions schools and programs, including medical, nursing, and public health—offer learning opportunities related to the health impacts of climate change, yet many also encountered challenges in instituting or developing curricula. The results of the survey provide a baseline assessment of the state of climate-health education internationally among health professions institutions. Results of the survey by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers appear in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The survey suggests there exist a range of educational offerings on climate-health, including sessions, courses, programs, or post-doctoral positions. Some schools have offered climate-health education for several years, some are just now adding content, and others do not include any content on the subject. While many schools are discussing adding climate-health educational offerings, there are still considerable gaps in offerings at many institutions as well as challenges that extend beyond the institutional level, such as political and funding priorities that might lead to lack of staff time and materials to support the training.

Conducted in 2017 and 2018, the survey was completed by 84 health professions institutions internationally. Among respondents, 63% offer climate-health education, most commonly as part of a required core course (76%). Sixty-one of 82 respondents (74%) reported additional climate-health offerings are under discussion, 42 of 59 (71%) encountered some challenges trying to institute the curriculum, and most have received a positive response to adding content mainly from students (39 of 58, or 67%), faculty (35 of 58, or 60%), and administration (23 of 58, or 40%).

The article’s authors write that opportunities exist to facilitate the integration of climate-health curricula, such as working with students, faculty, and members of administration that are interested in this topic. In order to facilitate this integration, institutions can look to online resources, groups, and networks to provide guidance and information to develop curricula.

“We suggest that health professions schools include this content in their curricula and that awareness as well as financial support, resources, and expertise increase to help in its uptake,” write study authors Brittany Shea, MA, Kim Knowlton, DrPH, and Jeffrey Shaman, PhD. “Climate change may be affecting health in a variety of ways with increasing consequences. Health professionals, including those in public health, nursing, and medical services, should be educated on how to prevent, mitigate, and respond to factors associated with climate change that may be associated with health in a negative way.”

Brittany Shea is project director for GCCHE. Kim Knowlton is assistant professor of environmental health sciences and senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Jeffrey Shaman directs GCCHE and the Columbia Mailman School Climate and Health Program; he is a professor of environmental health sciences.

The study was made possible with financial support from The Rockefeller Foundation and ClimateWorks Foundation. Jeffrey Shaman and Columbia University disclosed partial ownership of SK Analytics. Shaman also disclosed providing paid consultant services for Merck and Business Network International. 

About the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education

The Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE) was launched in 2017 by faculty at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health with the vision that all health professionals throughout the world will be trained to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the health impacts of climate change and other planetary changes that impact human health and well-being. To advance progress toward this goal, the GCCHE created a virtual town square across all health professions by bringing together member institutions to share best scientific and educational practices; develop global standards for knowledge and practice on the health impacts of climate change that all graduates of health professions schools should possess, as well as share resources that member institutions can use for this purpose; build a pipeline of health professionals who focus their work on the health impacts of climate change; and support the development of global academic partnerships to foster mutual learning, particularly in under-resourced countries. GCCHE currently includes over 200 member institutions in over 30 countries on six continents, representing institutions with over an estimated 150,000 students. The GCCHE has received financial support from several foundations, including The Rockefeller Foundation and ClimateWorks Foundation. Representatives of health professions schools are invited to join the GCCHE here.