Pharmacy Student Spotlight: Student Leaders Take Action for Planetary Health in Education
This page highlights some of our outstanding pharmacy student leaders and their perspectives on climate change, pharmacy education, and their future careers.
The Planetary Health Report Card for Pharmacy:
A Student-Led Endeavor for a More Sustainable Future
By Amelda Klink and Ashley Lam
April 22, 2022
As an individual, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of issues as large and daunting as climate change. Couple these feelings with the uncertainty of being a mere pharmacy student, and the thought of making even the smallest dent in the climate crisis seems impossible. However, with the right approach, attitude, and allies, these feelings need not be indicative of the truth.
This year, pharmacy students across the U.S. and the UK launched the Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC) for Pharmacy, a metric-based initiative designed to encourage the incorporation of planetary health and sustainable healthcare topics into pharmacy school curricula and onto campuses across the globe. From inspiration to implementation, this initiative is student-driven.
The PHRC was inspired by the White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) Racial Justice Report Card (RJRC), which piloted during the 2017-2018 academic year. The RJRC aims to identify and celebrate efforts to promote anti-racism, while holding academic medical centers accountable for promoting anti-racist medical practices.
Karly Hampshire, a current fourth-year medical student at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, was encouraged to design a similar report card focused on the evaluation of planetary health topics in medical schools. She developed a set of metrics surveying medical school coursework for the involvement of environmental sustainability topics, universities for campus sustainability, availability of planetary health events and extracurricular learning experiences, and more. Thus, the Planetary Health Report Card (PHRC) was born. Since its pilot in the 2019-2020 academic year, Hampshire has expanded this initiative to include sixty-two medical schools in the U.S., UK, Ireland, and Canada. This year, Hampshire and the PHRC leadership team sought to expand the PHRC to other healthcare professional schools, including pharmacy.
Ellie Self, trainee pharmacist at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, and Dr. Alison Astles, subject lead at the University of Huddersfield, UK initiated the pharmacy branch of the PHRC with Hampshire's guidance. Self and Astles adapted the medical school metrics for application to pharmacy schools and recruited the support of other pharmacists and pharmacy students. Self was then joined by other members of the student leadership team, Yewon Byun, Ladan Karim-Nejad, Ashley Lam, and Kayla Pangilinan. This team was tasked with ensuring that the metrics were applicable to pharmacy schools internationally and recruiting pharmacy schools to participate in the PHRC for Pharmacy pilot.
One of the teams to participate represented the Skaggs School of Pharmacy at the University of Montana. The Student Health Professionals for Health Climate (SHPHC), the school's first student-run planetary health club, became interested in the PHRC for Pharmacy initiative after taking the inaugural Human Health and Climate Change course in the Spring 2021 semester. This course, offered to students from a variety of health and environmental backgrounds, was co-taught by RxforClimate Co-founder and Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Dr. Hayley Blackburn. Students from diverse backgrounds learned about strategies to address climate change in their future healthcare careers and compared top-down and bottom-up approaches. They were excited to learn that the PHRC initiative combined both. As a student-led project, it showed great potential for building enthusiasm among members of SHPHC. Members were also motivated by the opportunity to present their findings to the pharmacy curriculum committee with the hope that this would galvanize their efforts to further include planetary health in the pharmacy school curriculum. They were thrilled to be involved in the first year of the initiative and establish a baseline from which they could continually improve their PHRC for Pharmacy grade.
Post-evaluation, both Amelda Klink, PHRC for Pharmacy team leader from the University of Montana, and Ashley Lam, team leader from the University of Charleston, are proud of the grades their schools earned and impressed with what they were able to achieve. While they acknowledge the areas in which their schools could improve, they both believe that their grades are a celebration of all the positive efforts their universities and schools of pharmacy have made towards a more environmentally sustainable pharmacy practice education. Moving forward, they are eager to work with faculty and campus supporters to integrate more planetary health and sustainable healthcare topics and initiatives into their pharmacy school curricula and their universities. They plan to use the PHRC for Pharmacy metrics and examples as a guide, and hope that other similarly minded pharmacy students feel inspired to do the same.
One way that planetary health could be better integrated into coursework is through more discussion around the psychological effect of climate change and climate anxiety. It is strongly recommended that students in all fields of healthcare receive comprehensive training to have effective conversations with patients about climate change. Planetary health should also be integrated into discussions about antimicrobial stewardship, especially as growing resistance and waning efficacy become more prevalent. It is vital that future stewards of these resources understand all causes of these issues, including those that can be linked to manufacturing practices, such as the resulting environmental pollution in waterways. Finally, the hope of the PHRC for Pharmacy initiative is to help future pharmacy professionals understand how much of the global carbon footprint is attributable to the pharmaceutical industry. Students must have a starting point to devise solutions to address and improve ecological impacts as they move into their careers.
Beyond bringing awareness to planetary health and sustainable healthcare topics, the PHRC represents the power of the student voice. As individual students, it is easy to think of oneself as minuscule in the grand scheme of the field of pharmacy and even more so in the face of problems as massive as climate change. However, participating in initiatives like the PHRC for Pharmacy has been empowering. Further, it has proven that with patience, perseverance, and support, anyone can make a difference.
Check out the videos posted below to hear pharmacy students' perspectives on climate change.