Problem. Health impacts of climate change are well-documented. The health care industry simultaneously contributes to fossil fuel use and is a haven for humans whose health has been harmed by climate change. Furthermore, three key international and national climate reports from 2018 highlighted adverse health impacts of climate change that reached beyond earlier estimates, emphasizing the urgency of climate action in health care.
Background. As the largest and most trusted group of health professionals in the nation, nurses have the opportunity to educate others on climate and health. As the only national organization focused exclusively on nursing leadership in environmental issues, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments [AHNE] is leading the way in this arena. Through work with individual nurses and nursing organizations, ANHE is working to engage nurses around climate and health to build momentum for solutions. In May 2018, AHNE partnered with Health Care Without Harm to launch, the Nurses Climate Challenge campaign with the aim of activating 5,000 health professionals around climate change and human health. Participation in the Nurses Climate Challenge affords students, faculty, nurses, and nursing leadership the opportunity to become Nurse Climate Champions in their settings to educate and activate their colleagues around climate change.
Methods. As one component of AHNE’s work, the Nurses Climate Challenge framework involves providing resources to Nurse Climate Champions to use in educating others about climate and health. Resources include communication strategies for talking about climate change, slide sets about health impacts of climate change, and tips for taking action on climate change in health care, among others. In the development of this project, AHNE and HCWH partnered with a Chief Nursing Officer at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn. to pilot resources and seek feedback. To ensure success of the challenge, the project team conducted routine outreach to Nurse Climate Champions, provided exemplars of engaged nurses, and promoted the challenge in a variety of venues, including presentations for professional nursing organizations and academic institutions.
Results. To date, over 350 Nurse Climate Champions have educated over 1,800 colleagues about the health impacts of climate change. Moreover, AHNE currently has thousands members across the country who look to the organization for guidance in engaging in environmental and climate action.
Summary. Based on widespread nursing engagement in AHNE and early successes with the Nurses Climate Challenge, this model could serve as an exemplar to increase health system sustainability in conjunction with improving human health. Moreover, the importance of partnering with local communities and piloting climate and health initiatives cannot be underestimated.