Climate Change, Medical Education, and Dermatology

Misha Rosenbach, MD

May 23, 2022

A recent article on Medscape shines an important light on the challenge – and urgent need – of integrating climate change training into medical education. These nascent efforts are just getting underway across the country, with some programs – notably Harvard's C-CHANGE (Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment) program, mentioned in the article, and others, such as the University of Colorado's Climate Medicine diploma course – leading the way. A number of publications, such as the editorial titled "A planetary health curriculum for medicine" published in 2021 in the BMJ, offer a roadmap to do so.

Dr Misha Rosenbach

Medical schools, residency programs, and other medical specialty programs – including those for advanced practice providers, dentists, nurses, and more – should be incorporating climate change and its myriad of health impacts into their training pathways. The medical student group, Medical Students for a Sustainable Future, has put forth a planetary health report card that evaluates training programs on the strength of their focus on the intersections between climate and health.

While the article did not specifically focus on dermatology, these impacts are true in our field as well. The article notes that "at least one medical journal has recently ramped up its efforts to educate physicians on the links between health issues and climate change." Notably in dermatology, the International Journal of Women's Dermatology devoted an entire 124-page themed issue to climate change and dermatology in January, 2021, while JAMA Dermatology editor Kanade Shinkai, MD, PhD, called out climate change as one of the journal's priorities in her annual editorial, stating, "Another priority for the journal is to better understand the effect of climate change on human health, specifically skin disease."

The impacts of climate change in dermatology range from heat-related illness (a major cause of climate-associated mortality, with the skin serving as an essential thermoregulatory organ) to changing patterns of vector-borne illnesses to pollution and wildfire smoke flaring inflammatory skin diseases, to an increase in skin cancer, and more. While incorporation of health issues relating to climate change is important at a medical school level, it is also critical at the residency training – and board exam/certification – level as well.

Beyond the importance of building climate education into undergraduate and graduate medical education, it is also important that practicing physicians, post-residency training, remain up to date and keep abreast of changing patterns of disease in our rapidly changing climate. Lyme disease now occurs in Canada – and both earlier and later in the year even in places that are geographically used to seeing it. Early recognition is essential, but unprepared physicians may miss the early erythema migrans rash, and patients may suffer more severe sequelae as a result.

Finally, it's important that medical organizations are aware of not just the health implications of climate change, but also potential policy impacts. Health care is a major emitter of CO2, and assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Admiral Rachel L. Levine, MD, with the National Academy of Medicine, has appropriately pledged to reduce health care carbon emissions as part of the necessary steps that we must all take to avert the worst impacts of a warming world. The field of medicine and individual providers should educate themselves and actively work toward sustainability in health care, to improve the health of their patients, populations, and future generations.

Rosenbach is associate professor of dermatology and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and is the founder and cochair of the American Academy of Dermatology Expert Resource Group for Climate Change and Environmental Issues. Rosenbach is speaking on behalf of himself and not the AAD.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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