The globe is experiencing a climate change (CC) crisis with detrimental consequences to health conditions and health outcomes of populations across the life span. As nurse educators, it is imperative that we provide our students with opportunities to understand emerging needs of patient care, as well as how they may contribute to climate justice initiatives. To equip nursing students with the skills and knowledge to address the climate crisis along with its consequences across the life span, an activity was introduced as part of a Community Health and Health Policy course. In this course, senior-level nursing students are introduced to contemporary topics from community health science to population-based nursing practice.
The recommendations of Leffers et al. (2017) guided our learning activity. The activity was designed as an in-class mock summit. First, students viewed an address delivered during the United Nations Climate Action Summit by activist Greta Thunberg (Thunberg, 2019). Students were then divided into groups, each focusing on the consequences of climate across populations while considering the overarching principles of social determinants of health, policy, and responsibilities of nurses to serve as advocates.
The primary objectives of this classroom activity were to (a) identify social, cultural, economic, and political factors contributing to CC across populations; (b) describe areas of CC in relation to human health risks; (c) describe the importance of air, water, and food quality as determinants of health and the impact of CC; (d) explain how policy is relevant to CC; and (e) describe how government agencies use policies to address environmental issues.
To further understand the role of the community health nurse in the mitigation, adaptation, and resilience toward CC and its impact across populations, students explored the following topics:
- Approaches to identify those most vulnerable to climate impacts.
- The impact of social determinants of health on CC.
- Nurses' use of advocacy to address health hazards in the environment.
- Policy development to reduce the health effects of CC.
The learning activity took place over 2 hours of class time with the expectation that the students previously read the book chapter on the topic of environmental health (Somers, 2020). Each group was provided 20 minutes to explore other literature (e.g., scholarly, and reliable web sources) on their respective topics. Next, student groups prepared three to five key points to share with the class regarding the assigned topic, including drinking water availability, sanitation, food supply, safe shelters in relation to childhood growth and development, and the effect of air quality on cardiovascular and pulmonary health. Students also reported the teaching and advocacy role of nurses, specifically promoting preventative measures and using their voice through professional organizations, policy, and legislative protections to address socioeconomic disparities and health inequities. Following presentations, groups received questions, reflections, and feedback from other classmates and the instructor.
The classroom activity was not graded, which allowed for a meaningful exploration of the topic without fear of a poor evaluation. For future implementations of this lesson, students will be expected to identify resources prior to attending class, along with a detailed description of the activity, so students may make the most efficient use of class time.
The students were engaged and displayed a high level of critical thinking during the activity. Students also demonstrated advocacy for their assigned topic and ameliorating the effects of CC. Most of the students noted the CC activity was informative and meaningful to their learning experience. There is a critical need for inclusion of CC and its impact on community health in undergraduate nursing curricula to ensure the future nursing workforce can address the crisis.
Mazen El Ghaziri, PhD, RN
Brenna L. Morse, PhD, RN-BC, NSCN, CNE
University of Massachusetts Lowell,
Solomont School of Nursing
- Leffers, J., Levy, R. M., Nicholas, P. K. & Sweeney, C. F. (2017). Mandate for the nursing profession to address climate change through nursing education. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 49(6), 679–687 doi:10.1111/jnu.12331 [CrossRef] PMID:28806483
- Somers, T. S. (2020). Environmental Health. In DeMarco, R. & Healey-Walsh, J.Community & public health nursing: Evidence for practice (pp. 453–485) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Thunberg, G. (2019). U.N. Climate Action Summit. https://www.npr.org/2019/09/23/763452863/transcript-greta-thunbergs-speech-at-the-u-n-climate-action-summit