Jun 09, 2016

What Do Climate Change and Health Have to Do With Nursing?

Lisa Campbell attended the Climate Change and Health roundtable at the White house

Lisa Campbell

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments organized the recent  Climate and Health Roundtable  at the White House. Lisa Campbell, DNP, RN, APHN-BC, attended to advocate for a Culture of Health. Campbell, who is also part of the Texas Team, that state’s Action Coalition, wrote about the experience for the Campaign for Action website:   

On May 25, the White House hosted a historic meeting of representatives from national nursing organizations to discuss opportunities for collaboration to mitigate the effects of climate change on health. Nurses at the table met with senior White House administration and federal agencies to address nursing’s role in education, research, practice, and policy/advocacy.

I was there in part because of my long-time interest in environmental issues, starting with recycling and energy conservation during the 1970s oil crisis. However, the magnitude of the effects of climate change on health became more evident, and a larger part of my practice, when I became the director of a local public health department.

At the White House, John P. Holdren, PhD, assistant to the president for science and technology, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, briefed the group on the newly released comprehensive report that explains the many ways in which climate change is a threat to the health of the American people.

For me as a public health director, addressing climate and health has meant:

  • Maintaining effective mitigation programs such as mosquito control.
  • Issuing health alerts and public education during heat days to prevent heat-related illnesses most especially in vulnerable populations: children, the elderly, and those who are economically disadvantaged.
  • Working with emergency management to assess the community and develop plans to address flooding, hurricanes, and other disasters.
  • Advocating for environmental policy change at the Texas Railroad Commission with local citizen groups.

In other practice settings it also meant:

  • Developing proactive waste management plans.
  • Educating staff about environmental health issues.
  • Participating in interdisciplinary teams to develop systemwide strategies to address the health impact of climate change.
  • Conducting research on climate change and health.

At the White House in late May, we considered the steps needed to assure a competent nursing workforce to address climate change and health, starting with awareness of the problem.

Every day, nurses across the United States care for individuals and at-risk populations adversely affected by climate change. By working together, we can build the practice capacity of the nursing community through education, training, and linkages to collectively mitigate climate change and more effectively serve our communities.

Nurses are already implementing a Culture of Health, a movement that understands that one’s physical environment is a key part of one’s health. What can you do to learn more about how climate change influences your practice? You can get an overview of climate change and health by visiting The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments website: http://envirn.org/pg/groups/7007/climate-change-and-health/

Lisa Campbell is an associate professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing. Until April, she was public health director at the Victoria County Public Health Department in Victoria, Texas.