A new program launched this summer by a collection of national research groups in collaboration with Dalhousie and other Canadian universities offered trainees in health-related professions a window into the substantial impact of modern health care on climate change.
The inaugural Summer Institute on Sustainable Health Systems, held online and in-person at various host institutions across the country in late June, was designed to generate increased awareness about this impact and emphasize the need to move toward more sustainable health systems.
“Engaging trainees, the healthcare providers and researchers of the future, will help them to look for opportunities to address the climate crisis now and as they build their careers,” says Professor Sean Christie, director of research in the Division of Neurosurgery at Dal and co-lead on a flagship project on sustainable health at Dalhousie’s Healthy Populations Institute (HPI).
Dr. Christie and Gillian Ritcey, HPI’s managing director, are founding partners and represent Dalhousie on the Executive Committee of CASCADES — a national initiative funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada that supports climate action and awareness in health care through initiatives such as the summer institute.
Addressing the gap
Climate and environmental change pose an accelerating and complex threat to 21st-century health systems, and these systems are, in turn, a significant contributor to global carbon emissions.
According to one recent study, health systems are responsible for approximately 5 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions in Canada — a figure comparable to the aviation sector. Emissions from hospitals and pharmaceuticals are reported to be the biggest contributors.
Despite the health sector being implicated in climate change, few graduate or health-care professional programs in Canada equip trainees with the knowledge and skills required to lead, manage, analyze, inform, or deliver sustainable solutions.
The summer institute was created to address this gap, providing trainees with daily interactions with a virtual panel of national experts as well as local, in-person learning activities to strengthen understanding of different topics. Attendees had the opportunity to network and make connections with local champions of sustainable health care.
HPI and Dal's Global Health Office hosted the in-person hub for Atlantic Canada, which drew attendees from nine disciplines across health professional programs, applied health services research and health promotion.
CASCADES — led by the University of Toronto with Dal as a core partner — collaborated with Emerging Leaders for Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Health Services and Policy Research (CIHR-IHSPR) to offer the summer institute.
Jessica Nowlan is CASCADES Regional Lead for Atlantic Canada.
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