New Nursing Center to Tackle Climate Change

September 27, 2018
Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health
Ten nurse scholars are working to tackle climate change head on.

A new initiative launched by faculty at MGH Institute of Health Professions promises to tackle head-on the effects of global warming that a recent United Nations report says are far more dire than scientists previously predicted.

The Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health is the country’s first nurse-led initiative that focuses on climate issues through education, research, and advocacy. The Center’s mission is to promote research and scholarship that explores the impact of climate change on health of populations, bring together thought leaders on climate, climate justice, and health by hosting symposiums and creating educational offerings including a certificate in the subject, and create opportunities for public discourse and advocacy that result in policy changes that promote preventative measures.

“Not everyone may recognize that nurses, and health professionals in general, can play a critical role in preventing and preparing for climate change, and the School of Nursing is uniquely positioned to impact the health care of individuals, families, and communities locally and around the globe,” said Dean Inez Tuck. “In creating the Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health, we have the opportunity to work together in our roles as teachers, clinicians, policy makers, scientists, and environmentalists to address these pressing issues through education, practice, research, and service.”

The U.N. report, released October 7, says that curbing global warming will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to human behavior, and that drastic measures must be taken by 2040 to stave off coastal floods, wildfires, droughts, food shortages, and poverty.

“Nurses play a key role in teaching wellness and preventative care, so it made sense to build on this expertise and give the Institute a voice in the global dialogue about health and the environment,” said Dr. Leslie Neal- Boylan, the chairperson of the Center’s steering committee and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Program Innovation. “It’s a chance for us to make an impact with the world’s most pressing problem.”

Faculty passionate about the issue

The Center will fuse the scholarly research and passion of 10 nursing faculty, many of whom have published books and articles and presented at national and international conferences on the subject. Global Health Nursing in the 21st Century is one of those results. A textbook co-authored by three MGH Institute nursing faculty—Assistant Professor Suellen Breakey, Professor Inge Corless, and Professor Patrice Nicholas—it is the first textbook that presents the successes, challenges, and opportunities of global health nursing. It is a call to action that responds to a recent World Health Organization mandate advocating that nurses and midwives must be part of an interprofessional team of key strategists for facilitating global health.

An impact on everyone

“Many health care professionals are unaware of how climate change will affect their jobs, but the effects already are apparent with such things as higher rates of asthma from air pollution and an increase in health issues that arise after natural disasters,” said Dr. Breakey. Dr. Nicholas added, “Unless changes are made, climate change will continue to have adverse effects on people, especially those who are members of vulnerable populations.”

While other colleges have created centers in public health departments, Dr. Tuck said this is the first climate-centered initiative in the county spearheaded by nurses. She envisions the Center also will foster integration of content relevant to climate change, climate justice, and health in nursing education curricula, and expand and deepen the MGH Institute’s commitment to research and scholarship on the subject. This includes having faculty from the school’s other academic programs participate, which will further expand the IHP’s commitment to interprofessional collaboration.