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Six people sit around a meeting-room table.

Dr. Ann Loewen, a family and emergency physician (right), speaks to the UM grad students who took part in the Summer Institute on Sustainable Health Systems.

Grad students learn about environmental impact of health systems

June 30, 2023 — 

Attending the Summer Institute on Sustainable Health Systems opened Mackenzie Alexiuk’s eyes to how the delivery of health care impacts the environment.

From June 19 to 22, the master’s student in community health sciences at the Max Rady College of Medicine took part in the institute that’s aimed at providing health research and health professional trainees with the knowledge and skills needed to work towards sustainable health systems.

“We don’t really think about health care being a sector that is a heavy greenhouse gas emitter or wasteful,” Alexiuk said. “You think about the oil sector and things that are poorly affecting the environment, but health care does, and I wanted to learn about it.”

The institute is run by CASCADES, an organization led by the University of Toronto Centre for Sustainable Health Systems that supports Canada’s health-care community to transition towards an environmentally sustainable and resilient health system.

The institute was open to master’s and PhD students in public health, health administration, health services and policy, and health-care professional programs.

While CASCADES is located in Toronto, the two master’s and two PhD students who took part from UM didn’t have to travel to Ontario for the sessions. To avoid travel and be environmental conscious, hubs were set up at 11 universities across Canada to offer a hybrid format.

The morning session featured in-person local experts who spoke about topics ranging from the environmental impact of hospitals to how to reduce the environmental effect of family medicine clinics. The afternoon featured national panels that were broadcast to the hubs digitally.

The summer institute is in its second year but it’s the first year UM students have participated.

Dr. Alan Katz, professor of community health sciences and family medicine at the Max Rady College of Medicine, said he helped establish a hub at UM because climate change is a crucial issue and health care’s impact on the environment is important to him as a health-care provider.

“These graduate students are our future leaders,” Katz said. “Giving these students skills and information is going to help us address climate change in the future.”

One of those future leaders is Dr. Degol Tsegai, a master’s student in community health sciences.

The physician said he learned a lot about how health-care professionals can incorporate the idea of sustainability as part of the quality-of-care piece in their practice. He said that everything from how different drugs impact the environment to waste management in hospitals must be looked at for their impact on climate change and environmental sustainability.

“The summer institute has changed my awareness,” Tsegai said. “I think this is a very important initiative and it will help me in the future.”

If you are interested in taking part in the summer institute next year, you can find more information here:

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