Medical School Adds Environmental Health and Medicine Track | Georgetown University Medical Center

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Downtown San Francisco in 2020, amid California’s record wildfire season. As the effects of climate change intensify, doctors will encounter more and more patients who have been affected by environmental factors, including smoke from wildfires, which has been directly linked to poor air quality. air can have significant health effects. (Image: Patrick Perkins on Unsplash)

Posted in GUMC Stories
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Keywords environmental health, longitudinal university stream environmental health and medicine, medical education, medical school, sustainability

(April 22, 2022) — Healthcare providers will increasingly encounter patients who have been affected by environmental factors as the effects of climate change intensify, including climate migration and the spread of infectious diseases. With the new Longitudinal Environmental Health and Medicine University Stream, Georgetown medical students now have the opportunity to receive additional training to address these factors.

Students admitted to the track will learn how to take patient histories that include environmental factors that affect health, educate patients about risks and advocate on their behalf, and explore strategies to reduce the environmental impact of medical facilities. They will also have the opportunity to volunteer for an environmental health cause and complete a relevant flagship project. The concentration is now one of eight longitudinal tracks offered by the School of Medicine, allowing students to explore a particular area in conjunction with the four-year medical curriculum.

Its creation is part of a growing number of efforts to promote environmental research, education and action in Georgetown, including Commons of the Earth, the Georgetown Institute for Environment and Sustainability, launched in February. The institute will focus on these university-wide issues and build on the interdisciplinary work of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

Ruba Omeira
Ruba Omeira (M’24)
    Vasalia Panchumarthi
Vasalia Panchumarthi (M’24)

Created by students

Ruba Omeira (M’24) and Vasalya Panchumarthi (M’24), who both held leadership positions at the Georgetown Climate Health and Medical Sustainability Club, conceived the idea for the track and were instrumental in its development for approval. In their proposal, they pointed out that the American Medical Association has been encouraging the integration of climate health topics into the medical education curriculum since 2019, but that these topics and environmental topics are not typically covered during medical education. .

Although Omeira and Panchumarthi were successful in getting their professors to include examples of environmental health issues in the preclinical curriculum, “we wanted to create something more permanent,” Omeira said. Their proposal was approved a few weeks before the application deadline for students to join the streams in fall 2021, and the inaugural class, which includes them both, is currently underway.

“We’re really excited about this, because there are a lot of topics we want to delve into,” Omeira said. “This first year will include lectures on environmental injustices, pharmaceuticals and the environment, how toxins affect physical systems, including allergies, and the effects of wildfires on respiratory health.”

Advocacy and action are also important components of the track. “We plan to hold an op-ed writing workshop and teach students how to lobby and write a bill themselves, to get them thinking about what can be done,” said Panchumarthi.

Respond to patient needs

Shiloh Jones, PhD, associate professor and director of general medical anatomy, is the director of the Environmental Health and Medicine track. “I was surprised to find out how much professors care about climate health and clinical health, and it’s because they see it,” Jones said. “Tropical diseases that we weren’t used to seeing in the United States – patients are suffering from them. Climate migrants arrive in our communities, cared for by our doctors.

Shiloh Jones
Shiloh Jones, PhD

Participating students’ fourth-year capstone projects could address some of these issues in a way that will help raise awareness, such as creating a series of videos on an environmental health topic, conducting a waste audit a medical facility, creating a public health campaign, or crafting a case review of a climate refugee.

Jones hopes the students who participate in the trail will gain the knowledge and experience to talk to patients about environmental issues and also how those issues affect them. “Climate change in general is such a polarized topic, and there’s some data to suggest that people are more likely to trust their doctors” than other political speakers, Jones said, giving them a unique opportunity to educate their patients. about the risks they face.

It’s also important for future doctors to learn to speak on behalf of their patients, she said. “Many polluting industrial facilities are located in areas where residents don’t have the money or political influence to fight them, and maybe they need jobs. But they can bring asthma, pollution and other problems,” Jones said. “We must advocate for those who cannot as effectively.”

Kathleen O’Neil
GUMC Communications

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