Climate Change and Human Health: A Novel Elective Curriculum for Medical Students

Nature and scope of the project

Climate change (CC) is one of the greatest human health threats of our lifetime. Health professionals must understand the effects of the climate crisis, advise patients appropriately, and play a role in combating CC. We created a for-credit elective course to provide an educational opportunity for medical students regarding the impacts of CC on human health.

Synthesis and analysis of supporting literature

Over 70 healthcare organizations have declared CC a health emergency and advocated for the health sector to be more involved in advocacy(1). While 86% of physicians surveyed by the American College of Physicians agree that “climate change was relevant to direct patient care” and 93% supported minimizing effects of the climate crisis(2), most physicians feel unequipped to take action, either in the clinic or advocating politically(3). Students do not have proper education to advocate for CC mitigation– only one third of the 147 US medical schools include any CC education in their curricula(4).

Project implementation

We evaluated published curricula from other institutions, as well as incorporated content and topics suggested by the Planetary Health Report Card evaluation tool. Lecturing faculty were acquired via: intra-institutional speaker recommendations from our CC student organization faculty advisor, contacting prior lecturers who spoke to our CC student organization, and contacting our local Physicians for Social Responsibility director for experts on specific topics.

Evaluation criteria

We implemented a semester-long, for-credit elective on the subject of CC and health. The elective consisted of eight lectures, three journal club discussions, and a final presentation. Lectures were taught by MD, PhD, MPH, and EdD professionals from across the country.


Our institution decided to offer the course from our Center for Community and Global Health. This allows the course to become a permanent fixture of the elective curricula offered to medical students.


This curriculum is a step towards educating providers on the impact of CC. Future goals include: surveying course takers to evaluate its effectiveness in achieving our learning objectives and formulating more concrete educational tools regarding advocacy and policy. We hope this curriculum may be adaptable by other institutions and across disciplines so all healthcare providers may be advocates for CC mitigation and health equity.

Works Cited:

1. Philipsborn RP, Sheffield P, White A, Osta A, Anderson MS, Bernstein A. Climate Change and the Practice of Medicine: Essentials for Resident Education. Acad Med. 2021;96(3):355-367. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000003719

2. Crowley RA; Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians. Climate Change and Health: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(9):608-610. doi:10.7326/M15-2766

3. Kotcher J, Maibach E, Miller J, et al. Views of health professionals on climate change and health: a multinational survey study. Lancet Planet Health. 2021;5(5):e316-e323. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00053-X

4. Goshua A, Gomez J, Erny B, et al. Addressing Climate Change and Its Effects on Human Health: A Call to Action for Medical Schools. Acad Med. 2021;96(3):324-328. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000003861



Climate Change and Human Health: A Novel Elective Curriculum for Medical Students