Innovative Teaching Tackles Climate Change and Health


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Teaching faculty at Carle Illinois College of Medicine are helping to shape the future of how students learn about climate change and human health. CI MED-led faculty teams have piloted two innovative case-based learning modules designed to help future physician innovators take a big-picture view of the health implications of climate change and how they can influence environmental health policies in the communities they serve. Both efforts address social determinants of health that can disproportionately affect communities that are medically underserved and under-resourced.

Grace Park
Grace Park

“Future physicians will be at the forefront of dealing with the interconnectedness of the environment and human health. Plausible cases like this one help students explore how real people in real communities are impacted,” said Grace Park, MD, the director of CI MED’s Health Systems Science thread. Park led an interdisciplinary team that developed and piloted a learning module focusing on climate change impacts with input from a community health partner.  The learning module is unique because students in various health-related disciplines and colleges – from medicine to veterinary medicine to public health – worked together to examine how climate change affects health across species and ecosystems and then offered possible solutions.

The hypothetical case study was based in a rural community experiencing a diarrhea outbreak due to a contaminated water supply. In the scenario, extreme flooding caused a manure lagoon to contaminate the community’s water, resulting in a public health emergency. The case was developed so that students from each discipline could share their expertise and learn about the health risks associated with climate change-driven extreme weather events.

Faculty designers built the course using the Center for Disease Control’s One Health framework, which addresses issues like climate change, environmental contamination, neglected tropical diseases, vector-borne diseases, antimicrobial resistance, food safety and food security, and other health threats shared by people, animals, and the environment. The exercise was piloted with students in March of 2022 as an optional learning activity. Since then, the case has been incorporated into the first-year curriculum for both medical and veterinary medicine students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. It is also included in the environmental health core course for UIUC Master of Public Health students to meet a required competency in the One Health framework. This past spring, this activity hosted over 200 students.

“The results from this pilot support the importance of introducing an interprofessional framework for understanding the impact of climate change in various dimensions of health care,” Park said. The course can be adapted to other environmental health scenarios. Park’s team included CI MED faculty members Holly Rosencranz, MD,  (now retired) and Health Innovation Professor Brian Aldridge along with William Sander, DVM, both professors of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, CI MED Clinical Sciences Professor Japhia Jayasingh‑Ramkumar, Sheena Martenies and Laura Rice, both professors in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, and Sarah Michaels of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

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Holly Rosencranz

A second CI MED research team created and piloted active-learning workshops focused on teaching medical students about being advocates for policies to address climate change. “So far, there have been few initiatives or resources to connect climate change education with policy advocacy for medical students,” said Rosencranz, the principal investigator on the study. “Medical schools have a responsibility to guide future physicians to meet the needs of their patients and community, and training in climate change advocacy can advance this critical role. Our workshop provided a guide and tools to engage in such actions.”

Student participants reported the workshops prepared them to advocate for legislation or policies to mitigate the health effects of climate change and increased awareness of advocacy opportunities. “Targeted workshops with actual examples and exercises on climate advocacy are feasible and important additions to the curriculum,” Rosencranz said.

The workshops were piloted at University of Illinois-Chicago-affiliated campuses (participation by three campuses: Chicago, Peoria, and Rockford), and to the American University of Antigua in their Global MD curriculum. At CI MED, some elements of the workshop have been incorporated in a climate change-themed elective and in the college’s ‘foundations’ course.

Rozencranz, Ramkumar, and CI MED adjunct faculty member Warren Lavey, a lawyer who has significant public policy experience, have published the results of their work in the AAMC’s Med Ed Portal.

Editor’s note:

The article, “Policy Advocacy Workshop Tools for Training Medical Students to Act on Climate Change,” can be found here

The study, “Beyond the Imodium, a One Health Discussion on Diarrhea and the Impact of Climate Change,’ was published recently in the journal Medical Science Educator and can be found here.


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This story was published October 30, 2023.