As climate impacts intensify, health care professionals are increasingly finding themselves at the front lines. From the perils of extreme heat to the spread of infectious diseases, climate change is a health crisis. Doctors, nurses, and other practitioners are reckoning with this in their day-to-day work — and, increasingly, finding themselves thrust into the broader struggle for climate mitigation and justice. Because of this, they’re also a great test group for understanding what it takes to move someone from resignation to empowerment. It turns out, there’s a blueprint that anyone can follow. And one recent effort with health professionals is showing the way.

In 2022, the Center for Health Equity Education and Advocacy at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard teaching hospital, launched a fellowship to equip health care professionals with community-organizing tools for climate action. In teams of three or four, fellows learned principles of organizing and worked toward climate advocacy projects in their own communities.

Last week, a study was published in Academic Medicine examining the results of the fellowship’s first year (it’s now in its third). From pre- and post-fellowship surveys, the study found that participants improved their understanding of the historical context of climate change and the health inequities it creates, and also gained confidence in their ability to do something about it.

“What I was excited about is that people’s sense of purpose and community really increased,” said Gaurab Basu, a primary care physician and director of education and policy at Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, who co-directed the fellowship. (We’ve previously covered his efforts to bring climate material to Harvard’s med school curriculum.) At the outset of the fellowship, only 47 percent of the health organizing fellows agreed that they had the tools to combat climate change at their organization, and even fewer felt equipped to combat climate change in their local communities. After the training they received, those numbers jumped above 90 percent, according to the surveys fellows took.

“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. It feels very big and overwhelming,” Basu said. “Education, for me, is a vehicle for supporting individuals to get activated and to see that they actually can really be in a position to make change.”

Read the full article about healthcare and climate change by Claire Elise Thompson at Grist.