By Kathie Pender, Vice-lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Nursing Education, Instructor, Aurora College and
Donald Leidl, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Nursing Education, Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan and
Bente Norbye, Vice-lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Nursing Education, Professor, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
In collaboration with G. Keeler, Academic Lead Clinical Placements, University of Northern British Columbia School of Nursing and A. Klepetar, Assistant Professor and Coordinator, University of Northern British Columbia School of Nursing and P. Juuso, Assistant Professor, Luleå University of Technology and N. Diachkovski, Head of the Department for Higher Education in Nursing, North-Eastern Federal University Institute of Medicine
The impact of climate change on population health and healthcare systems has also been integrated into the undergraduate curricula at the partner institutions of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Nursing Education (NNEN). Nursing students are provided with opportunities in the clinical learning environment to engage with patients and communities to advocate for change through experiential and didactic learning. In this article, we present some of the student-led climate action initiatives in the North – actions that are raising awareness and spreading knowledge for improving and preserving the environments in which people live.
Aurora College in Yellowknife, Canada offers a community and leadership practicum which connects nursing students with organizations outside of the program. Practicums focus on building environmental capacity in the college through a student-led composting and recycling project. Currently, students and a local environmental organization are leveraging the quality of clean Arctic lakes and promoting the use of water bottles. They collaborate with elementary schools to pilot a project focused on increasing the consumption of local water while decreasing the uptake of single-use disposables. Another project involves the annual traditional knowledge day, during which first-year nursing students attend a day camp to learn about Indigenous ways of living that positively impact climate change. The effects of climate change on the natural environment is highlighted through the decrease in fish caught, polluted lands, altered animal migratory patterns, and disease patterns in wildlife and humans. The impact on Indigenous subsistence is demonstrated through theoretical preparation and experiential learning at the camp. As future leaders in healthcare, these experiences connect the environment with health and demands of future educators.
In Finland and Sweden, a new joint project “Green Care” focuses on nature-based services as rehabilitation to augment treatment for illness. The idea is to use designated natural environments like parks, gardens, farms and animal therapy as components of healing, with services based on the restorative and rehabilitative effects of nature as an adjunct to conventional care. This new and innovative approach to treatment was included in the curriculum for the NNEN international field school in August 2019. The goal of this initiative is to implement the concept of Green Care in nursing curricula across Sweden and Finland, and to expand on its efficacy through research and dissemination.
At the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada, students are required to complete a module related to sustainability and environmental protection prior to their third year consolidation practicum. In this module, students learn to recognize ways that the environment contributes to an individual’s negative health outcomes; assess clients for harmful environmental exposures; identify groups at risk for harmful environmental exposures; identify ways in which the health care system can prevent further harm to the environment; and understand how nurses can improve the health of environments and those who live and work in them. Attention to environmental health continues into their final year of study. Students also engage in a community health nursing course including environmental health as a topic. Determinants of health and health inequities are discussed in the context of environmental and global health, and students are encouraged to extend this learning into their class assignments. Recently their assignment topics focused on the effects of climate change-related events such as forest fires on health and nursing practices. During the leadership course, students investigated the impacts of healthcare on the environment as a contributor to waste and pollution. The aim of this is to imagine ways in which environmental health could be a consideration in their own everyday practice as leaders in the healthcare field. Students become acutely aware of the connections between environmental and population health and are encouraged to act as leaders and educators as they transition into professional practice.
In the Russian territory of Yakutia, student-led climate action involves the preservation of clean water sources. With more than 723,000 natural lakes covered with ice for an extended period, this is a very ambitious undertaking. Indigenous inhabitants of Lake Yakutia use the lake for their water supply, fishing, and agriculture needs. Agricultural waste is the number one pollution of internal waterways in Yakutia, with the main sources of pollution to the sea being mineral fertilizers and cattle excrement. This leads to the intensive development of plant life and algae, along with an increase in oxygen consumption from the fresh water. As a result, there is a massive reduction in fish populations and decrease in water bodies’ ability to self-clean. The end result contributes to the destruction of this delicate fresh water ecosystem. Nursing students participate in regular clean-up and prevention work with residents who live in rural areas. In public places, there are sanitary-hygienic educational posters warning of the impact of harmful organic waste on the fresh water lakes. Particular emphasis is placed on the timely clean-up of excrement from farm animals. Together with practicing nurses, students conduct water purity testing and monitor the cleanliness of the yards and ponds. These audits are completed to ensure that environmental regulations are met. Through direct participation in monitoring, nursing students are able to link the effects of pollution to the impact on the environment.