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AMA Adopts Sweeping Climate Change Education Policy

By Todd L Sack, MD, Board Member of National PSR and PSR Florida

The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted at its June 2019 meeting a sweeping new policy that pledges the organization to promote education for medical students and physicians on the topic of the health threats from climate change.

The new policy builds on the AMA’s large number of statements on environmental health and climate change. These are available by searching the Policy Finder at www.ama-assn.org. Among these policies is recognition of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that climate change will affect public health, the needs to educate the medical community on the health effects of global climate change, and the need “to incorporate the health implications of climate change into the spectrum of medical education.”

The new policy, which I authored with assistance from Erica Frank, MD, former PSR board member, is entitled, “Climate Change Education Across the Medical Education Continuum.” Because despite the AMA’s previous positions, very few medical students or practicing physicians are receiving the information that they will need during their careers.

The new policy was adopted by the House of Delegates without dissent. It “supports teaching on climate change in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education.” It specifies that the curriculum should prepare physicians to have, “a basic knowledge of the science of climate change, to describe the risks that climate change poses to human health, and to counsel patients on how to protect themselves from the health risks posed by climate change.”

The AMA goes further to pledge to “make available a prototype presentation and lecture notes on the intersection of climate change and health for use in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education.” AMA is in the process of creating teaching materials to make available to medical schools and it is developing continuing medical education courses for doctors. I anticipate that much of this will be available online next year on AMA’s website. In addition, the AMA will work with the medical schools accrediting organizations to support their efforts to increase climate change education.

Every field of medicine will need to be involved in this process.  A pediatrician in Seattle will need a very different fund of knowledge to protect their patients than might an emergency room doctor in Toronto or a cardiologist in Miami. Clearly there is an important role that each of our professional societies can play to create working groups to develop the pertinent curricula.

For help with presenting a similar proposal to your state medical organizations, contact Todd Sack at tsack8@gmail.com.

Todd Sack, MD, board member of national PSR and PSR Florida, was the author of the resolution passed by the AMA.