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Harvard Medical School’s New Climate Change Curriculum Shows Early Success

05/29/2024 | PLOS Climate

Press contact: Anna Miller,

New report details how HMS developed, implemented, and evaluated its curriculum to prepare healthcare professionals for climate change

BOSTON, Mass. – Evaluations show that Harvard Medical School’s (HMS) new climate change curriculum implemented last year is achieving its goal to help prepare future doctors to incorporate the impacts of climate change into their clinical practice. 

The new report, published today in PLOS Climate, details how students, faculty, and administration at HMS worked together to develop a four-year curricular theme on climate and health and provides a road map for other medical schools to do the same. The report describes how the curriculum was implemented last academic year and provides results of an evaluation in the form of a student survey. The curriculum draws from evidence-based teaching methods, including a set of core competencies all students must master, and was formally approved in January 2023.

The work helps lead a national movement to develop, integrate, and assess climate-related competencies in medical education; implement such curricula at more medical schools; and collaborate with accreditation organizations to standardize them.

“We are providing essential education that physicians need to keep their patients healthy and safe in the face of climate change,” said senior author Dr. Gaurab Basu, director of education and policy at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and assistant professor of medicine and global health & social medicine at HMS. “I’m thrilled that Harvard Medical School is rising to meet the moment, and my hope is that other medical schools will follow. Our report demonstrates that it’s not only possible—it’s also effective and replicable.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described climate change as the single greatest health threat facing humanity, and physicians’ role in the climate crisis is critical as they are among the most trusted voices on climate action. To effectively care for patients, it is essential for physicians to understand and respond to climate impacts on health and health equity, as well as the implications of climate change for the practice of medicine through preventive care, diagnostic reasoning, and counseling patients on how to reduce risk. 

The new HMS curriculum integrates climate-related content into course materials throughout the year rather than developing an isolated, immersive course. Research shows that this method enhances students’ ability to retain information and increases their capacity to create connections between concepts. 

The year-end survey showed that a majority of students agreed that the required curriculum was valuable (76%) and improved their understanding of the health impacts of climate change (80%), which is critical for a healthcare workforce facing increasing risks to their patients’ health from climate-related disasters like heat, flooding, and wildfire pollution.

While fifty-five percent of U.S. medical schools self-reported to the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2022 that the health effects of climate change were discussed in their curriculum, the field is still young and evolving. In medical schools that have made strides innovating climate change curricula, the change has largely been driven by medical students. 

“During my first year of medical school, I was struck by the glaring omission of climate change in discussing patient cases. Leaving medical school without an understanding of the connection between the environment and human health is no longer acceptable,” said Madeleine Kline, co-lead author and a current student in a dual-degree program at HMS and Harvard Chan School. “This work fills that gap and contributes to the growing body of scholarship documenting how these programs can be implemented and maintained effectively.”

The HMS curriculum uses a novel competency framework that addresses not only the impact of climate change on clinical practice, but also how historical and structural factors exacerbate climate-related health inequities, how the healthcare system contributes to and is vulnerable to climate change, and how health professionals and institutions can contribute to climate solutions. 

“Patients are already experiencing the health impacts of climate change, such as those driven by warmer temperatures and extreme weather events,” said Julia Malits, co-lead author and 2023 HMS graduate who is now an emergency medicine resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This curriculum helps ensure that future classes of doctors are prepared to recognize and respond to the health impacts of climate change and to discuss these challenges with their patients.”

The curriculum was initially proposed by an HMS student group, Students for Environmental Awareness in Medicine (SEAM), and was developed with a climate health faculty working group led by Dr. Basu. It was formally approved as an HMS curricular theme by the dean of medical education. 

In addition to leading development of the HMS curriculum, Dr. Basu leads a 6-month fellowship that teaches healthcare professionals how community organizing practices can mitigate the health and health equity effects of climate change, and recently led the effort to launch a concentration in Climate Change and Planetary Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which will debut this fall.

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About Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE) increases public awareness of the health impacts of climate change and uses science to make it personal, actionable, and urgent. The Center leverages Harvard’s cutting-edge research to inform policies, technologies, and products that reduce air pollution and other causes of climate change. By making climate change personal, highlighting solutions, and emphasizing the important role we all play in driving change, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE puts health outcomes at the center of climate actions. To learn more visit

Gaurab Basu

Gaurab Basu MD, MPH

Gaurab's work focuses on the intersection of climate change, health equity, medical education, and advocacy.

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