Nurses Leading on Climate Change and Health Issues

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by Cook, Cara; Schenk, Beth; & Demorest, Shanda L.

Nursing is rooted in the principles of health promotion and disease prevention. Nurses help individuals achieve optimal health by educating how to engage in healthy lifestyle choices, ensuring appropriate medication management, and assisting in accessing preventative care. Nurses have also been vital to addressing environmental hazards that affect health.

New Challenges

Now the health sector is experiencing a new challenge. A growing body of evidence indicates the rise in global temperatures over the past decades is contributing to environmental changes that threaten human health. Health risks include more acute and chronic cases of respiratory and cardiac illness; increased risk of vector-borne disease; food and water-borne illness; and mental health stressors. In Alabama, for instance, expected health issues are those associated with heat, wildfires, changes in food quality and production, sea level rise and coastal flooding.

As front-line caregivers for people impacted by climate-related events, understanding the connection between climate change and health is important for nurses. Nurses can also drive change within the health sector to reduce emissions. Hospitals are large users of energy and resources and create substantial amounts of waste, contributing to pollution that worsens climate change. As trusted professionals, nurses hold an immense ability to make a difference, reach many people, and push for action to address climate change.

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) is a national nurse-led organization working to tap into the power of nurses to address climate change. ANHE has developed a variety of resources specifically for nurses. These resources are available free of charge at envirn.org and include a Climate and Health Toolkit, an online repository of resources and tools for nurses to learn about climate and health and how to take action.

However, there is still much we don’t know regarding nursing awareness and engagement around climate and health. We know that when we talk about climate change from a health standpoint, people are more likely to engage and want to take action. Yet nurses may not feel like they know enough about climate and health or the solutions in place to educate others or address climate change in nursing practice. To learn more about nurses’ awareness, motivation, and behaviors related to climate change and health, the authors have developed the Climate, Health, and Nursing Tool (CHANT). This a short, voluntary and anonymous survey that will help us learn more about how to better engage nurses on this topic. For those interested in the survey, it can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/2uhk0nP.

Yet, because of our presence in various communities, our connection with the patients and communities we serve, and our holistic approach to care, nurses are in a unique position to educate and engage others on climate and health. Recognizing the potential of nurses as change agents, ANHE has partnered with Health Care Without Harm, an international organization working to transform healthcare by promoting environmentally sustainable practices. This partnership has launched an exciting new campaign called the Nurses Climate Challenge, a nationwide effort to educate 5,000 health professionals on climate and health, with nurses leading the education.

What You Can Do

Nurses can visit nursesclimatechallenge.org and register to become a Nurse Climate Champion. Champions will then have access to a comprehensive set of tools including:

  • Outline and suggested steps for planning educational events (e.g. grand rounds, lunch and learn programs, staff meetings)
  • Sample emails to engage hospital leadership
  • Resources for educational events, including promotional posters, sample slides for presentations, and tips and strategies for talking about climate change
  • Easy to use guide for taking climate action in practice and home settings

Champions are able to track the amount of people educated and see progress in reaching the challenge goals on the online platform. By acting to address climate change, nurses have an opportunity to improve health on a global scale. Join us in the Nurses Climate Challenge!

Authors:
Cara Cook, MS, RN, AHN-BC
Climate Change Program Coordinator
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
cara@envirn.org
Beth Schenk, PhD, MHI, RN-BC
Providence-WSU Nurse Scientist/Sustainability Coordinator
Providence St. Patrick Hospital
Assistant Research Professor
Washington State University College of Nursing
Elizabeth.schenk@wsu.edu
Shanda L. Demorest, DNP, RN-BC, PHN
Clinical Assistant Professor
University of Minnesota School of Nursing
demor020@umn.edu