Brushfire on a California hillside in 2020 - photo by Ross French
August 14, 2023

The Role of Academic Medicine in Fighting the Climate Crisis

VC & Dean Deborah Deas co-authors opinion piece outlining reasons for optimism

Author: UCR SOM Staff
August 14, 2023

With concerns about the climate crisis and its escalating impact on the health of people around the world, a recent commentary co-authored by the dean of the UCR School of Medicine gives three compelling reasons for optimism. The article titled "Reasons for Optimism About Academic Medicine’s Actions Against Climate Change" delves into the urgent need for the academic medicine community to respond to the climate crisis and highlights three key reasons for optimism. It appears in Academic Medicine, the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Dean Deborah Deas

Deborah Deas, MD, MPH, the vice chancellor for health sciences and the Mark and Pam Rubin dean of the UCR School of Medicine, co-wrote the piece along with Michael L. Good, chief executive officer and senior vice president for health sciences and executive dean at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah, and William T. Mallon, EdD, senior director of strategy and innovation development at the Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC. 

The authors write that medical schools, teaching hospitals, health systems, and associated organizations can leverage their influence by adopting a climate lens and integrating climate solutions into education, research, patient care, and operations.

Further, they emphasize that the mission of academic medicine is inherently connected to climate action as it aims to improve the health of individuals and communities.

“I firmly believe that as leaders in the medical community, we have a moral obligation to address this urgent global challenge,” Deas said. “I was thrilled to work with Drs. Mallon and Good to pool our knowledge and insights and share the critical need for action.”

“Together, we hope to inspire meaningful change within academic medicine, weaving climate solutions into every aspect of our work to create a healthier, more sustainable future for all,” she added.

The article outlines three primary reasons for optimism regarding academic medicine's response to climate change:

  • Alignment with Purpose: The core mission of academic medicine to improve the health of people and communities and as climate change acts as a threat multiplier for diseases, disabilities, and conditions, academic medicine institutions are taking significant steps to address their own carbon footprints and are working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Younger Generations Driving Change: As the next generation enters the workforce of learners, faculty, and staff, they are seeking institutions that prioritize sustainability and climate justice. Academic medicine institutions must respond to this workforce demand and become champions for climate action to attract and retain top talent.
  • External Forces Pushing Progress: Broader economic forces, coupled with state and federal incentives, are pushing academic medicine forward to act against climate change. Massive investments in sustainable goods and services are reshaping industries, and academic medicine must adapt to the changing landscape. The economic benefits and environmental considerations make climate-smart initiatives financially viable, further driving the urgency for change.

While there are reasons for optimism, the authors make clear that the current levels of climate action are inadequate and call for everyone associated with academic medicine, including faculty, staff, learners, leaders, patients, families, and community partners, to adopt a "climate lens" in everything they do.

“From education to research, patient care, community collaborations, and supply chain management, climate action must be integrated into all aspects of our operations,” Deas said.

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