AMEE 2015: sustainability takes the stage in medical education

Thursday, 17 September, 2015

It was exciting to see sustainability centre stage at the major international medical education conference, AMEE 2015, which took place in Glasgow earlier this month.

Dr Sarah Walpole, Research Lead for Sustainable Healthcare Education at CSH, chaired a Symposium titled “Social Accountability - Medical Students as Leaders for Sustainable Healthcare”. 

There is a widespread movement for medical schools to become more “socially accountable” - essentially meaning that they are proactive in anticipating and meeting the needs of society, both directly through actions in their local communities and by preparing students for their future roles. The Symposium aimed to show how environmental sustainability is an essential component of social accountability, and that medical students can lead - and already are leading - on the implementation of environmentally-sustainable practice, advocacy and teaching. (More detail below)

Delegates were also invited to attend a conference workshop on “Harnessing the sustainability agenda to enhance the teaching of quality improvement (QI) in healthcare” facilitated by Dr Trevor Thompson from Bristol University, CSH Medical Director, Dr Frances Mortimer, and Severn Deanery GP Sustainability Scholar, Dr Charlie Kenward. The workshop was very well attended and participants enthusiastically engaged in designing a QI project to improve a hypothetical asthma service, using sustainable healthcare principles, with many of them saying that they would definitely use this approach in future teaching.

Social accountability and QI teaching are both big movements within medical education, and environmental sustainability can bring important perspectives - and fresh ideas - to each.

SYMPOSIUM: Social Accountability - Medical Students as Leaders for Sustainable Healthcare - brief synopsis

The symposium was chaired by Dr Sarah Walpole, Research Lead for Sustainable Healthcare Education at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. Each section of the Symposium focused on a different aspect of Social Accountability:


Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Leader of the Climate Change department at the World Health Organisation, spoke via a video-link from Geneva, explaining how climate change is already increasing health needs globally, and how the causes of ill-health are closely linked to the causes of greenhouse gas emissions across a number of sectors, giving the opportunity to design policies which benefit health and environment at the same time. (You can read more at )


Dr David Pencheon, Director of the Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England & Public Health England, highlighted the work underway in the NHS to create a more sustainable health system and how medical students have a key contribution to make to this.


Andrew Punton, Medical student from Dundee Medical School and Alistair Wardrope, medical student in Sheffield and Coordinator of the Healthy Planet student campaign, demonstrated that medical students are excellent partners for new initiatives; they are enthusiastic, informed, erudite and active. They presented compelling evidence that medical students do want to learn about sustainability and indeed, many are already leading the profession in advocacy on climate change and health.

Dr Frances Mortimer, Medical Director, CSH, then briefly outlined the work of the Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE) network as a collaboration between students and educators “to prepare tomorrow’s doctors to work in a sustainable health service”, recognising that this may be very different from the health service that we know today. She highlighted the SHE priority learning outcomes, which emphasise knowledge about underpinning relationships (between environment and health), together with the development of skills to analyse problems and bring about change, and gave some examples of innovative teaching that is already going on in UK medical schools.

Dr Hanna-Andrea Rother, Associate Professor, Centre for Environmental & Occupational Health Research (CEOHR), University of Cape Town, spoke from South Africa to give a very practical example of their work in teaching medical students to take a history of environmental exposures, which often get missed leading to repeated health problems. (Teaching resources available from: