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Bold new program equips doctors to take action on climate initiatives: 'When I speak, people listen'

"We really feel like health professionals understand the connections … but they feel really daunted by it."

"We really feel like health professionals understand the connections ... but they feel really daunted by it."

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Some doctors are equipping themselves with new tools to make a difference at the intersection of climate and health care. 

A Grist report has detailed how the Center for Health Equity Education and Advocacy, part of Harvard Medical School, created a fellows program to provide "health care professionals with community-organizing tools for climate action" and increase understanding of the impacts of global heating on health

According to the organization's website, the goal is to allow health professionals to do their part by encouraging "structural change" through their work in the community. 

"Climate change is a public health and health equity crisis," the Cambridge Health Alliance has said. "Increasingly, health professionals recognize that mitigating and responding to the impacts of climate change is critical to improving the health of their patients."

Now, a study has revealed the impact of the work in its early stages. Research published in the Academic Medicine journal revealed that from the program's first year in 2022, 32 out of 38 participants said the fellowship increased their understanding of the links between climate and health, while 37 of 38 said they were more prepared to engage in community organizing. 

Of the 12 groups totaling 40 fellows, each had been involved in a climate health project by the initiative's conclusion. 

"We really feel like health professionals understand the connections of climate change and air pollution and ecological degradation on health, but they feel really daunted by it," said Gaurab Basu, primary care physician and director of education and policy at Harvard's Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, per Grist.

One doctor was inspired to take more action after wildfires in California in 2020. One of the devastated areas was close to his hometown, so becoming more involved in climate advocacy became an important personal goal. 

Pediatrician Gabriel Cisneros has since formed Clinicians for Climate Action with two other colleagues after being involved in the fellowship, and they encouraged their employer to commit to a pledge to reduce pollution produced at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center by 50% by 2030. New EV chargers on-site and the phasing out of an anesthetic known as desflurane, which is a planet-warming gas, have already been achieved. 

"When I speak, people listen," he said of his role as a physician. "Other people I feel a little bit bad for — they have to, like, disrupt plays in order to get their message out. And here I'm given opportunities to speak and be listened to. So that's why I've been a part of this and will continue to be."

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