Climate Change in Health Care Gains Foothold in Nursing Curriculum

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Nurses care for patients with asthma exacerbated by poor air quality and heat exhaustion during heat waves. They respond during natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding. Now, a growing number of nursing schools are incorporating an underlying driver of these health issues into their courses: climate change and the environment. Their goal is to prepare nurses to better care for patients and communities in a world with a changing climate.

At NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, faculty have developed content focused on climate change and the environment for several courses. In 2020, the college added a module on the clinical relevance of climate change in health care decision-making to the applied epidemiology course for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students, and the following year added modules on the environment for the health policy- focused course for PhD and DNP students.

Beginning this fall (2022), NYU Meyers will devote a brand-new course to climate and environmental health: The Environment and Health of Populations. The course is designed for graduate nursing students, but undergraduate students can enroll with permission from professors.

Nurses attend climate change rally in 2019.Historically, nurses may have learned about air quality and its effects on respiratory health, but haven’t necessarily been taught to care about dirt and water sources, which can become contaminated or carry pathogens, putting communities at risk. New coursework focused on climate might cover issues such as disaster preparedness, severe weather and health (for instance, protecting older adults during storm-related flooding or rising temperatures and infectious diseases) and sustainability in healthcare.

Robin Klar, DNSc, RN, a clinical associate professor at NYU Meyers who focuses on the environmental context for nurses in the US and around the world, said that this growing interest in climate change demonstrates nursing education’s eye on the future—as healthcare evolves, so does how we train nurses. “Nursing is not static; it’s a dynamic profession,” said Klar.

NYU Meyers is one of 53 schools currently taking part in the Nurses Climate Challenge, a national campaign to mobilize nurses to educate 50,000 health professionals on the impacts of climate change on human health. Thus far, the movement has reached nearly 36,000 health professionals, including more than 15,000 nursing students.

NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing
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