The Planetary Health Alliance defines planetary health as “a field focused on characterizing the human health impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth’s natural systems.” This definition is intentionally broad, intended to encompass the multitude of ways that the environment can affect health, including water scarcity, changing food systems, urbanization, biodiversity shifts, natural disasters, climate change, changing land use and land cover, global pollution, and changing biogeochemical flows. The health of humanity is dependent on our environment and our environment is changing rapidly and in disastrous ways. Although the World Health Organization has called climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” many medical schools’ institutional priorities do not reflect the urgency of this danger to human health.
As we prepare for a life’s work as health professionals, we must be prepared to address the impacts of human-caused environmental changes on our patients’ health. This preparation is in the hands of the institutions providing our medical training. It is imperative that we hold our institutions accountable for educating medical students about the health impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic environmental changes, generating research to better understand health impacts and solutions, supporting related student initiatives, embracing sustainable practices as much as possible, and engaging with surrounding communities that are most affected by environmental threats. Because climate change and environmental threats disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (for example, communities of color, older adults sensitive to health threats, and individuals in low-resource settings), these issues are inherently ones of equity and justice.
With the purpose of increasing planetary health awareness and accountability among medical schools, we have created a standardized and reproducible Planetary Health Report Card that medical students internationally can use to grade and compare their home institutions. This student-driven initiative aims to compare medical schools on the basis of discrete metrics in five main category areas: 1) planetary health curriculum, 2) interdisciplinary research in health and environment, 3) university support for student planetary health initiatives, 4) community outreach and advocacy centered on environmental health impacts, and 5) campus sustainability. This project is inspired by the Racial Justice Report Card, an initiative from White Coats 4 Black Lives that has led to substantial impactful change at medical schools around the country.
The Planetary Health Report Card was founded by medical students at UCSF School of Medicine with the help of many faculty mentors. We intend for this report card to be an annual publication in order to track institutional change over time. We hope this initiative helps inspire improvement in planetary health engagement, for our education, for our future, and for our planet.