What medical students learned on their elective

Monday, 23 March, 2020

Ian, Sarah, Charlotte and Mostafa are 4th year students at Oxford Medical School.  They joined us in February 2020 for a 4-week student-selected module and worked on our Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE) projects: medical school survey, teaching materials, educational video series, online course design, conference posters; as well as work for other CSH programmes such as the Green Walking Project.

Here is what they found interesting, challenging, and new.

For all of us, this was quite new territory, with sustainable healthcare little featuring in our medical education up to that point. Involvement in a wide range of projects, from sustainable quality improvement in Psychiatry to the benefits of green space for healthcare workers’ wellbeing, provided us with a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities for sustainability in particular specialties, and gave us a taste of conducting research in the field. In different ways this SSM changed the way each of us understood sustainable healthcare: it dispelled many of the misconceptions surrounding the field, made us feel both more obliged but also more empowered to act, and most importantly provided us with the tools with which to do so. What we have learnt in just 4 weeks has highlighted to us the potential of sustainable healthcare education to bring about change in the health service, and has also helped us to incorporate these principles into our own practice.

My time with CSH brought home the reality of the climate crisis and that as future NHS workers we were both part of the problem and the solution. I got involved with a project looking at NHS staff use of green space to improve wellbeing, an updated systematic review on what tomorrow’s doctors should be learning about ecosystems and attended 3-day sustainability in healthcare conference, among other exciting work. My time with CSH made me realise that as a future doctor I have a role to do no harm, and as such I was obligated to act sustainably. However, it also gave me a sense of hope that we really are moving in the right direction.

I always felt like I needed to do something to help against climate change but felt like any step I could take would be far too small or insignificant to have any real impact, it felt a little hopeless. This module at the Centre of Sustainable Healthcare gave me an insight into how it would be possible to institute change on a much wider level and how it would be possible for me as an individual to help put forward that change by working within the large system that is the NHS. The Sustainability School was a particular highlight as it provided us with an opportunity to talk to many different medical professionals from all over the country as well as learning the fundamentals of sustainable healthcare. I hope to incorporate what I've learned here into my practice as a doctor when I graduate.

Working with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare was a truly eye-opening experience. Having had no exposure of the significant role of the healthcare system in contributing to climate change, pollution and poor planetary health, I feel I have come out with the right set of skills to truly invoke change. Working on presenting sustainable QI to medical students gave me a very positive outlook on the roles of the doctors of the future in tackling social and environmental harm. The opportunity to meet other like-minded healthcare professionals in the Sustainability School gave me an insight into where the field will be heading, and I feel privileged to be a part of this movement. As a future clinician, the skills and fundamental knowledge I gained from my time with CSH will no doubt stick with me and guide me in taking actions with a more holistic outlook.

As someone already passionate about environmental concerns, and involved in campaigning, the Sustainable Healthcare SSM helped me to become aware of the growing research basis into sustainable healthcare practices, and provide me with a more structured and productive way of looking for solutions to the climate crisis. The SSM also gave me the opportunity to meet others committed to progress in the field, both through the day-to-day of working at CSH and through the CSH-run 3 day ‘Sustainability School’. It was also fantastic to be able to make a small contribution to research in the field, running a literature search in ‘Green Nephrology’ and considering the ways in which Oxford Medical School could better incorporate Sustainable Healthcare Education into their curriculum.