New Courses Help Medical Students Provide Better Care/Advocate for Health March 9, 2022

Three medical schools in Texas are offering elective courses this spring that address climate change and other environmental threats to human health. The courses are being offered at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, and the School of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The course at Baylor College of Medicine starts tomorrow, March 11, 2022. The two other courses started earlier this spring.

This effort is modeled on and grew out of a course taught at Dell Med starting in 2020 entitled “Environmental Threats to Public Health: What Every Physician Should Know,” an enrichment elective designed to teach medical students about environmental threats to health and what they can do to respond. This seminal course was made possible by funding from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and developed by board members of the Austin-based non-profit Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility (Texas PSR).

The three courses represent part of a growing number of environmental health classes being offered in U.S. medical schools.

“Our students recognize the importance of increasing their knowledge on the adverse effects climate change will have on patients and communities. We have developed our curriculum to include expert speakers in this arena, as well as small group discussions to help students understand the changes going on in our world right now,” said Dr. Anusha Govind, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “As we train our students to be the next generation of physicians combating climate change, I want to educate them on how to successfully represent their patients and communities. I am thankful to Texas PSR for giving me the introduction, platform, and resources to be able to bring this curriculum to UT Southwestern.”

“We’re thrilled to be offering an elective in environmental health here at Baylor College of Medicine and are immensely grateful to Texas PSR for their help,” said Dr. Winifred J. Hamilton, associate professor of family and community medicine and director of the Environmental Health Service at Baylor College of Medicine. “The Institute of Medicine, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and others have emphasized the importance of environmental health training in our medical schools and how this training could help prepare the next generation of physicians in recognizing and addressing environmental health issues.” 

“Expanded training of medical students in environmental health sciences will lead not only to better healthcare and improved health and well-being, but likely also represents an important step toward mitigating health disparities,” said Dr. Elaine Symanski, professor in the Center of Precision Environmental Health and Department of Medicine at Baylor, who assisted in developing the offering at the College.

“I’m excited for our third year of the environmental health elective at Dell Med. And I’m even more delighted that additional medical schools now are introducing their own similar learning opportunities,” said Dr. Lisa Doggett, president of Texas PSR. “When I went to medical school in the late 1990s in Houston, we didn’t have anything about climate change or environmental health hazards in our curriculum. Fortunately, medical schools are beginning to realize the important connections between the environment and health. Our students have given very positive feedback—they are grateful for this opportunity.” 

In each course, coursework is designed to prepare students to recognize and understand the health impacts of climate change, air and water pollution, energy and food production, and worker health and well-being with attention to vulnerable populations. The courses expose students to the fields of environmental health and public health practice, and will benefit future physicians, their patients, and their communities.

In addition, each medical school is offering coursework to help students learn to be effective advocates, encouraging them to act based on what they’ve learned. The development and creation of the courses at UT Southwestern and Baylor has been a joint effort of each medical school and Texas PSR. The course at UT Southwestern started on January 11, 2022. This spring’s course at Dell Med started on February 22, 2022. Lectures for the new courses will be provided by each of the medical school’s faculty, along with guest lectures from Texas PSR board members and other colleagues.

For more information on the Dell Med course and the effort to expand environmental health education in Texas: Lisa Doggett, (512) 731-7552, and Rebecca Bernhardt, (512) 643-2060

For more information on the UT Southwestern course: Anusha Govind, (214) 645-3998

For more information on the Baylor course: Elaine Symanski, (713) 798-6547 and Yhari Queen Jones, (713) 798-2383