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From devastating hurricanes to prolonged droughts to scorching heat waves, climate change wreaks havoc on the planet, with more severe impacts to come. As a nurse, you can expect climate change to affect your work if it hasn’t already. “Climate change,” notes the National League for Nursing (NLN), “currently impacts or will impact every aspect of nursing care.”

The NLN’s 15-page vision statement on climate change and health released in September 2022 “believes that the health consequences of climate change are among the most urgent public health and health equity crises of the 21st century. This statement addresses the importance of educating current and future nurses for climate change-informed practice and policy leadership.”

“Knowing that climate has so much to do with the health of the nation, and if we’re nurses who say we care about the nation’s health, then how can we not be about making sure that we understand climate, that our students are learning about the effects of climate,” says Beverly Malone, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, president and CEO of the NLN.

NLN Addresses the Education Gap

“The vision statement is essential because it addresses a gap in nursing education, where the adverse health effects of climate change are not well integrated into the nursing curricula at any educational level,” says Sandra Davis, Ph.D., DPM, ACNP-BC, FAANP, deputy director, NLN/Walden University College of Nursing Institute for Social Determinants of Health and Social Change.

Davis notes that in the climate change vision statement, the NLN wants to “address the importance of educating nurses on climate change-informed practice and educating them for policy leadership.” According to Malone, nursing schools are beginning to incorporate climate change into their curricula.

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The vision statement is the most recent of 20 vision statements from the NLN. Each vision statement in the vision series, notes Davis, “is a living document that serves as a roadmap for navigating some of the most critical issues facing our world, facing healthcare and facing nursing education. Climate change in health is one of these critical issues.”

Five Focus Areas

The NLN vision statement discusses recommendations in five areas, with each providing strategic initiatives. They include strategic initiatives for:

  • National League for Nursing
  • Deans, directors, and chairs of nursing programs
  • Faculty
  • Policy and Advocacy
  • Nurses in practice

For instance, in the strategic initiative for faculty, “we want faculty to embed learning strategies related to climate change and planetary health into their didactic, clinical, and simulation experiences,” says Davis. Likewise, for practicing nurses, “we want every nurse in practice to become educated about the adverse health consequences of climate change and to be sure that they understand the concepts of mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.”

Aiding the Marginalized

“As with most other healthcare issues, the greatest burden rests on the marginalized communities, communities of color. The issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion raise their interesting head even in climate,” says Malone. “There are still those on the fringes that have worse experiences or a more intense experience than others. And that’s not anything new. But we’ve not talked about it in terms of climate.”

One School’s Start

At the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, educators are just beginning work to integrate climate change into the curriculum, notes Mary T. Quinn Griffin, Ph.D., RN,  FAAN, ANEF, associate dean for global affairs, and May L. Wykle endowed professor. “We are interested in having our faculty learn more about climate change and the effects on health and how we can start integrating that into the curriculum,” she says.

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In an article published in the September/October 2022 Journal of Professional Nursing, Quinn Griffin and coauthors offered ways to integrate climate change content into existing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. In addition, the article ties climate change content to the domains in The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Recently, Quinn Griffin delivered a presentation on climate change during homecoming. In that presentation, she discussed how “nurses are really on the frontlines of working to mitigate the consequences of climate change every day. And that nurses comprise about 60% of health professionals globally, so their involvement in the education and the response to climate change is critical if we are to mitigate the impact of climate change on health.”

In addressing climate change, Quinn Griffin references the three strategies of adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. First, she notes that adaptation involves assessing the impact of climate change and planning for its effects.

In mitigation, “nurses could take leadership roles in helping and be on committees to create sustainable climate-smart hospitals and health systems,” says Quinn Griffin. In addition, resilience could involve the community and public health nurses helping to strengthen communities.

NLN Says Nursing Plays Unique Role 

“The nursing profession is uniquely positioned to offer critical leadership related to climate change and health and to address this complex challenge in partnership with other health professions and policymakers,” concludes the vision statement.

Climate change, notes the NLN’s Malone, is part of healthcare. “If you consider yourself a good practitioner, you need to build that into how you view the world and your responsibility as a nurse to that world.”

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