By: Taylor Diedrich, Stella Protopapas, Eashan Kumar, Margaret Tharp
What is the Planetary Health Report Card?
The health of humanity is dependent on our environment, and our environment is changing rapidly and in disastrous ways. Although the World Health Organization has called climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” the institutional priorities of many medical schools do not reflect the imminent danger climate change poses to human health.
The Medical Students for a Sustainable Future (MS4SF) student interest group at Indiana University School of Medicine is a group of medical students united around the intersection of climate and health. We are passionate about understanding the relationship between climate and wellbeing, and how we as future physicians and leaders can ensure we are prepared to treat patients in this rapidly changing world. Climate change will lead to adverse health effects in our patients, including but not limited to, heat-related morbidity and mortality, respiratory diseases and allergies, water- and vector-borne diseases, and food insecurity. The effects of climate change are already disproportionately affecting minorities and indigenous peoples, further reinforcing existing structural health inequities. IU School of Medicine is poised to make sustainable change at the institutional level.
To that end, we completed the Planetary Health Report Card, an international student-led initiative, for the second year in a row. With the Planetary Health Report Card, we evaluated IU School of Medicine's commitment to planetary health. The different metrics include 1) planetary health curriculum, 2) interdisciplinary research in health and the environment, 3) university support for student planetary health initiatives, 4) community outreach centered on environmental health impact, and 5) sustainability. This year we were joined by 73 other medical schools across seven countries. These data are publicly available at phreportcard.org. IU School of Medicine’s report can be downloaded here.
How can we improve planetary health at IU School of Medicine?
We hope that IU School of Medicine’s overall grade of D+ for the second year in a row will emphasize to school leadership that we have many opportunities for improvement. Based on our findings, some of our recommendations are as follows:
- Establish a Planetary Health Curriculum Task Force. Planetary Health connections in the curriculum should be made more explicit, with more dedicated time. The medical school should identify Planetary Health as a priority theme and include that material in learning objectives and test questions.
- Provide funded planetary health research opportunities for students. IU School of Medicine may draw from existing centers and groups such as Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, Environmental Resilience Institute, and IMPRS to create these research positions.
- Partner with local communities affected by climate change and pollution to share information about environmental health threats, advocate together for change, and provide opportunities for students to be a part of this work.
- Hire a full-time sustainability professional. IU School of Medicine has many opportunities to improve its sustainability practices across its nine campuses: divest from fossil fuels, implement composting, use renewable energy for campus buildings, and implement programs to make labs more environmentally sustainable.
We as students hold our institution accountable for improving planetary health at our school in a timely manner. Climate change is a health emergency, and we do not have the luxury of inaction. We have the opportunity now to make changes that can better the health of our patients and community.
How can faculty and students get involved?
If you are interested in getting involved with next year’s Report Card or any other planetary health and sustainability initiatives at IU School of Medicine, please email MS4SF.