Medical Students Tackle Health Through Climate Change

Jack Inglis once thought he would pursue a career in environmental science or agriculture. When he instead decided to apply to the University of Minnesota Medical School, Inglis knew he needed to find a way to incorporate both passions - one for advancing patient healthcare and another for saving the environment.

Today, Inglis is doing just that, leading as one of seven co-chairs of Health Students for a Healthy Climate (HSHC), the first-ever, interprofessional student organization among the Academic Health Center focused on creating awareness about the relationship between health and climate change.

“Climate change is a major public health issue,” said Inglis, who is the co-chair that represents the Medical School. “Just like other public health issues, it is critical that health professionals are educated on the causes, health consequences and mitigating strategies to best reduce the disease burden on the population. However, unlike other public health issues, such as smoking or obesity, the end result of unchecked climate change is an existential threat to humanity as a whole, and this adds additional urgency to the need for action within the healthcare community.”

Every month, HSHC hosts “climate conversations” where one member of the group leads the discussion on a specific topic. Inglis says the presenters hone critical research and communication skills while participants gain critical-thinking skills and new perspectives on the healthcare industry’s impact on climate change. The end goal is to inform and equip future health professionals with the tools they need to become trusted environmental advocates. 

“Healthcare professionals are influential in driving public opinion and policy,” Inglis said. “The majority of people still respect and trust providers as arbiters of scientific information. If we can make the case that the well-being of the environment directly impacts the well-being of the public, then the healthcare community will become a key player in bringing about the necessary changes.”

The group is in association with Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, a Minnesota-based organization made up of Minnesota physicians, nurses and allied health care providers who speak publicly throughout the state to seek legislative action on climate topics.

Inglis says the best part about HSHC is that anyone can join, and “for effective change, we need advocates at every level in every field.” 

“You don’t need to have any knowledge about climate change, the environment or even healthcare to contribute to our discussions,” he said. “Most of us don’t have backgrounds in environmental science, and new perspectives and faces make the conversations all the more valuable. Healthcare won’t make any progress if just one faction leads the charge.”

Interested in getting involved? HSHC will be hosting another climate conversation this month. Email Inglis for more details at ingli027@umn.edu.

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