Studiecentrum Radboudumc
Studiecentrum Radboudumc

“Sustainability deserves a permanent place in the medical curriculum”

Given the close relationship between environment and health, sustainability deserves much more attention in Nijmegen's medical curriculum. That is the belief of the students behind the Green Health Week at the Medicine Faculty. With initiatives such as an exhibition at the Study Centre, the students are attempting to turn the tide. “There is so much low-hanging fruit to pick.”

“Take the increasing heat stress, or the succession of natural disasters associated with climate change. You can put energy into making people better, which is good, but we also need to address the underlying climate issues,” says Master's student in Biomedical Sciences Niels Toussaint, one of the seven students behind the Green Health Week at the Medicine Faculty. With a lunch lecture and an exhibition, the students want to draw attention to the integration of sustainability and planetary health in medical education. “We keep talking about the growing pressure on the healthcare system,” says Master's student in Biomedical Sciences Aimée de Croon, stressing the importance of the initiative. “But to relieve pressure in the long run, it is essential that we address climate issues.”

Innovations within healthcare are a hot topic, assessed with a host of indicators. As far as Aimée is concerned, sustainability should also be an indicator in weighing innovations. The figures speak volumes: the healthcare system is responsible for 7% of carbon emissions, single-handedly gobbles up 13% of raw materials, and produces 4% of all waste.

The great thing is that on the Nijmegen Campus, good examples abound: the students mention Radboud university medical center, which scores very high in the Netherlands as a sustainable hospital. “It’s not hard to imagine our students walking in there to learn from good experiences. There is so much low-hanging fruit to pick, but many students don't even know how much there is for us to be proud of.”

More than focus on climate

In 2021, Nijmegen's seven faculties signed a covenant promising that all students would learn about sustainability as part of their study programme. “It may be that they’re working on it behind the scenes, but we still see far too little of this promise being realised in education,” says Medicine student Isa Witteveen. “All we have is an elective in Planetary Health. It's great that it's there, but it's not compulsory.” As a new impetus for greening, the students point to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport's Green Deal, which includes the agreement that from 2025 onwards, all new students in medicine and nursing will be offered courses in sustainable care.

The list of climate-related diseases is long. Medicine student Noa Kolpa points to cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, and lung diseases fuelled by heat and air pollution. For Noa, the broader purpose of the curriculum goes further than just focusing on the climate. “You have to remember that climate justice, the belief that everyone has a right to a healthy and safe living environment, also plays a big role in the ecological crisis. Currently, the impacts of climate change are unevenly distributed, and vulnerable groups are hit the hardest.”

Hence, sustainable education aimed at the future must include diversity, equity and inclusiveness, Noa says: “Recognition of skin diseases of people of colour requires separate attention, one of the aspects of diversity that illustrates that our curriculum could be more inclusive.”

The exhibition on the environmental impact of healthcare is on display on the Education Centre bridge until Friday 10 November. For more information, email us at greenhealthweek [at] (greenhealthweek[at]gmail[dot]com) 

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Diversity, Sustainability