Exeter students lead planetary health agenda in medical schools around the world

Posted on 12th May 2022

Medical students at the University of Exeter are improving sustainability and planetary health in medical schools around the world, as part of a global movement.

The Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC) is a student-led initiative in which student teams complete metric based reports to assess the quality of planetary health education at medical schools around the world. Each report provides the institution with needs-assessment tool allowing identification of areas for development.

At the University of Exeter Medical School, the drive is led by Will Downs, a final year medical student, and Daisy Campen, who is in her fifth year of her medical degree. Their movement has contributed to health of the planet being a top priority for their medical school. Their goal was to bring students and staff together to develop solutions that address the many problems related to the planetary health, particularly in health education. This year, their work contributed to the University of Exeter improving its PHRC score by 11 per cent, and received an overall ranking of fourth out of 26 in the UK.

The University of Exeter has declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ as part of its commitment to planetary health. Will and Daisy have been recognised for their roles in introducing a planetary health thematic forum at the medical school, which brings together students and staff at all levels.

Will adds that their PHRC result was reflected in the level of faculty engagement that they received. ‘’As medical students, I feel it is extremely beneficial to raise awareness of climate change. We are the ones who are going to face what the future holds for our planets’ health, our societies and our own health. The ones who will take over the baton in fighting the climate crisis. Our voices and actions hold a lot of power so let’s use it.’’

In particular, Daisy was given the opportunity to further her passion for climate change and human health in presentations at the education strategy meeting, inviting other degree courses in the medical school to consider their inclusion of planetary health and climate change in their curriculum.

Daisy said: ‘’The reason I wanted to get involved was that planetary health is an active solution-based approach to making a difference in the field of climate change and human health, which are two things I’m passionate about. It also highlights how our future careers as doctors will be impacted by the climate crisis so I feel it’s our responsibility to highlight the impact that human development has had on the planet.’’

Other medical schools across the world have also gone above and beyond to improve their commitment to planetary health in education as James Lee, an Environment and Human Health MSc student with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) and one of the UK’s regional Leads for the PHRC said; ‘’Lectures exploring climate change inequity, specific planetary health patient communication sessions, student organised faculty workshops on sustainable healthcare and an expanded range of planetary health modules are just some of the amazing new additions we have seen in UK schools this year.’’

The PHRC is evidence that student advocacy is a powerful tool and Will and Daisy’s enthusiasm is shared at the University of Exeter. James Lee said: ‘’I’m extremely grateful to all the student leads at the 26 UK medical schools that have taken part this year, including Daisy and Will at Exeter. It is no small undertaking to complete the reports, requiring the students to give up hours of their time alongside their medical studies. In addition to the completion of the Exeter report, it is great to see Daisy playing an active role in driving change at Exeter through her input on the planetary health thematic forum.’’

Ian Fussell, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Exeter Medical School, adds: ‘’this is a fantastic achievement, made even more impressive by the fact that it was led by two of our inspirational students. We will build on this success and continue to work on our commitment to sustainability and planetary health across the Medical School.’’

Find the 2022 Planetary Health Report Card results here

Date: 11 May 2022

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