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Challenging, but Worth It: Developing a Climate-Change Communication Workshop

By Matthew Mueller
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Medical students often complain that we don’t have enough time to do the things we want to do (outside of coursework) because of medical school’s demanding curriculum.

With our schedules split between clinical rotations and applying to and preparing for residency, it’s hard to squeeze in time with family and friends, much less stay active in our communities. In my case, along with everything else, I’m preparing for my wedding in June!

Life always pulls us in different directions. Therefore, we must look for ways to balance our obligations with our interests. But it can be done.

 

An All-Day Climate Workshop

On Saturday, March 25, 2017, I hosted a climate-change communication workshop for medical students and health professionals. The goal: to increase health providers’ awareness of the health impacts of climate change, and to encourage attendees to go out and discuss the issue with others. Held at Des Moines University (DMU) in Des Moines, Iowa, the workshop spanned six- and-a-half hours to ensure a comprehensive overview of relevant topics, including:

  • an overview of climate science
  • the health impacts of climate change
  • global and local prevention and preparation strategies
  • environmental stewardship
  • climate communication

Guest included: 

Eugene Takle, Ph.D., a professor of atmospheric science and agricultural meteorology at Iowa State University and coordinating lead co-author of the agriculture chapter in the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment

Yogesh Shah, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.F.P., director of Palliative Care Services at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines and faculty member of Broadlawns' Family Medicine Residency

Rebecca Shaw, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., chair, Department of Specialty Medicine, DMU

Laurel Whitis, M.P.H., a fourth-year medical student at DMU who happens to be my fiancée!

 

From Idea to Reality

I developed the idea for this workshop in the summer of 2015 while on rotation at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, where I was working in the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. In a conversation with my advisor, I explained my frustration with the lack of resources available to help physicians translate knowledge of the health impacts of climate change into action. I knew that I couldn’t be the only one with these concerns, and together we brainstormed ways to bridge the gap. We agreed that while formal medical education to train future physicians about the health effects of climate change is necessary, until the standard medical school curriculum includes this information, a training workshop might be the most effective means to reach medical students and health professionals.

Upon my return to the United States, I quickly realized that the demands of my third-year medical school curriculum were going to limit my ability to devote the necessary time and energy to developing the workshop. However, when I was presented with the opportunity to follow through with the project as part of my M.P.H. capstone, I managed to make it happen.

Although turnout was relatively low due to an unforeseen reduction in our advertising and recruitment period, the workshop was a success. Participants were split almost evenly between medical students and physicians, yielding a variety of perspectives for engaging conversations. The physicians’ experience and pragmatism were indispensable when discussing effective communication in clinical practice, while the students suggested innovative ways to connect with future patients. Through post-workshop surveys, attendees reported finding this educational format useful, and predicted that the workshop would be helpful in their academic and professional pursuits.

 

Lessons Learned

Beyond staging a successful workshop, I learned a great deal about the planning process, and about myself.  At first, I didn’t think I possessed enough knowledge to lead a meaningful workshop and teach fellow students, much less faculty, about the health impacts of climate change. And I doubted I was capable of organizing such a complex event. Organizing the workshop took nearly nine months, from drafting the project proposal to actually hosting the event, as I had specific curricular goals and timelines to adhere to while planning the project. However, I believed in my idea and wanted to see it through.

The most difficult part of this process was the initiation. Once I set my mind on the project, and convinced myself I had the ability to do it, I had no difficulty sending emails, researching, and preparing in the evening after my clinical shifts. I prioritized submitting applications and documentation that I knew would require me to wait for a response, then filled in this waiting period with the busy work. It was easy to sneak in time for emails while traveling, or while having downtime during the day. Not once did I have to sacrifice time with my fiancée or for running to allocate time for this project. Planning and hosting this workshop taught me that regardless of how busy our schedules can be, time is not the issue. We must convince ourselves we have the ability, and if we can do that, there’s so much we can accomplish.

 

Former Climate for Health intern Matthew Mueller attends medical school at Des Moines University in Iowa, where he is pursuing a dual Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Master of Public Health degree (DO/MPH). He will soon begin a residency in emergency medicine at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital in metropolitan Detroit, MI. In his spare time, he enjoys distance running.