Citing the increasing patterns of extreme weather, natural disasters, and their threats to public health, the National League for Nursing this week released a new vision statement on climate change and health. The strategic action group, co-chaired by MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing faculty, Patrice Nicholas and Suellen Breakey, which included SON faculty member Oluwatomisin (Tomisin) Olayinka along with nursing scholars from institutions around the country, developed the vision statement as a call to nurse educators and other key stakeholders to take urgent action against the adverse effects of climate change on global health.  

“Nurses and nurse educators must be strong advocates to address the dangers that climate change poses to health and for the actions needed to mitigate those dangers,” says Dr. Patrice Nicholas, Director of the Institute’s Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health. “It is an honor for me to join Dr. Breakey, Dr. Olayinka, and the NLN in advancing this critical work.” 

Poor health outcomes resulting from climate change are projected to become more severe in the coming years. These include heat-related illnesses; pollution-induced respiratory ailments; vector-borne, food-borne, and water-borne diseases; and mental health challenges from disruptions, dislocations, and other environmental traumas. It is these looming crises that led MGH IHP’s School of Nursing to create a first-of-its-kind, nurse-led initiative that focuses on addressing ways all health care professionals can respond to the impact of climate change on health and well-being. 

“IHP’s School of Nursing is a leader in vocalizing the health hazards of climate change,” says Dr. Ken White, Dean of the School of Nursing. “Having our faculty lend their expertise on a national level underscores the leadership we’re able to provide in this sphere.” 

“Communities of color and other populations who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts are the most at-risk for enduring the negative health consequences,” says Dr. Breakey, Associate Director of the Center.  “It was important to have a group of scholars from diverse backgrounds as part of the strategic action group.” 

The NLN statement encourages nurse educators to ensure that future nurses are prepared to address the critical need for mitigation. It also provides an analysis of the multiple and layered ways climate change negatively impacts global health. Finally, the statement concludes with an outline of recommendations for the NLN, nurse educators, deans, directors, nurses in practice, policymakers and advocates.   

“The health consequences of climate change are among the most urgent public health and health equity crises of the 21st century. This Vision Statement addresses the importance of educating current and future nurses across the spectrum of higher education for climate change-informed practice and policy leadership,” said NLN Chair Kathleen Poindexter. “The National League for Nursing is uniquely positioned to lead as we confront the code red for a healthy future and a healthy planet.”

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