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UK medical schools must teach about climate crisis, say students

UK medical schools must teach about climate crisis, say students

Extreme weather events widen existing inequalities and traumatise victims while climate anxiety affects mental health

Medical students are demanding their schools include the climate crisis as a core component of the curriculum, as the intensifying climate emergency highlights the corresponding health crisis.

Hannah Chase, a final year medical student at Oxford said the sense of urgency hit home recently when a fellow student confessed they didn’t believe in climate change. “It just shows that we make such assumptions,” said Chase. “It’s needed, this education.”

Extreme weather events, including heatwaves, wildfires, floods, storms and droughts, are increasing in frequency and intensity – widening existing health inequalities, traumatising victims and precipitating the loss of food security, homes and livelihoods.

Climate change and its fossil fuel-powered drivers, such as urbanisation and intensive agriculture that encroach on wildlife habitats, are encouraging pathogens to jump from animals into humans. Meanwhile, anxiety about the fate of the Earth is affecting mental health, especially in the young.

Disturbed by the lack of teaching on climate change in her course, last year Chase stumbled upon an assessment tool designed by a group of US students to inspire medical schools to adopt climate change and sustainability goals: a report card judging the school’s green credentials.

Despite the strain of the pandemic, Chase managed to make the concept work in the UK. She and her colleagues convinced 30 out of the 33 medical schools to publish the grades given by their own students on a handful of criteria, including the curriculum to community outreach and campus sustainability.

The findings were stark: the scores given for the incorporation of climate change and sustainability in the medical school curriculums ranged from 7% to 74%.