Bridges to Access 2022: The Impact of an Interdisciplinary, Educational Conference About Climate-Related Health Effects and Climate Disparities on Pre-Health and Health Professional Student Knowledge, Self-Efficacy, and Beliefs
Climate change is a public health crisis that exacerbates health issues and inequalities. Health professionals have the responsibility to understand climate-related health effects. Though climate change poses one of the biggest threats to health, most health students have not received formalized education on its health effects. Student-led initiatives may be integral in addressing the present gaps in knowledge.
Bridges to Access (B2A) is an annual, free, student-led, interdisciplinary conference that aims to identify and solve the most pressing health issues of today, with a particular focus on issues affecting medically underserved communities and populations. In 2022, B2A focused on the intersection of health and climate and was designed to educate and equip health students with the knowledge and skills to address climate-related health effects and inequities. Conference programming was organized by medical and public health students and included the perspectives of physicians, researchers, public health leaders, attorneys, and environmental advocates.
The effectiveness of this novel, interdisciplinary, educational model to educate pre-health and health professional students on health and climate was evaluated with a descriptive and statistical analysis of pre- and post-conference survey responses. Of the 350 attendees, 306 (87%; 306/350) were pre-health and health professional students. The health professional students were comprised of medical and PA students (49%), nursing students (32%), public health students (2%), and graduate, allied health, and pharmacy students (3%).
A paired t-test (α=0.05) showed that there was a statistically significant difference between pre- and post-survey measures for all survey items. Students had an increased understanding of and perceived ability to teach someone else about climate-related health effects, climate injustice, health system level impacts of climate change, and causative factors of climate change (p-value < 0.0001). Students showed a statistically significant increase in their concern for the effects of climate change on health (p-value of < 0.0001). Students also had a statistically significant increase in their belief that addressing climate injustice and climate-related health effects will require an interdisciplinary approach (p-value < 0.0001).
These results provide evidence to support the positive benefit and validity that this novel, interdisciplinary model has for educating and equipping pre-health and health professional students on health and climate. While further studies are required to determine best practices for educating students on this topic, B2A can serve as an adaptable model other academic institutions can use in the future as they seek to incorporate health and climate education into their curricula.