Meggan Craft is passionate about combating climate change. That’s why she is the University of Minnesota Climate Champion for the CVM.
“A shared goal of better health for all is a good way to meet people on equal footing and have discussions about climate change,” she says. “I do this work for my daughter—I want to leave the planet in good shape for her.”
U of M’s Climate Champions
The Climate Champion Team is an interdisciplinary group of faculty that collaborated to create a set of nine short slide decks that introduce health professionals to the connection between climate change and health. The publicly available slides are hosted by the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility. They are intended for use by instructors and programs—both within the U and beyond—when teaching about the connection between climate and health in existing courses.
“We are proud of the fact that this program brings people in from across the Academic Health Center as part of a partnership. It was not a top-down decision—it was sparked by student interest with buy-in from faculty in all the different schools.”
Meggan Craft, PhD
The U of M is a national leader in creating an interprofessional curriculum that includes climate change. “This is a movement across the U of M in all the health professional schools,” says Craft, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM),. This includes School of Nursing, the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the Occupational Therapy Program, and the Medical Laboratory Sciences Program. “The information on climate change we are including in the CVM’s curriculum is similar to or the same as curriculum being taught in other units and colleges.”
The movement was born out of a need expressed by students to incorporate more climate change into their curriculum. “We are proud of the fact that this program brings people in from across the Academic Health Center as part of a partnership,” Craft says. “It was not a top-down decision—it was sparked by student interest with buy-in from faculty in all the different schools.”
Bringing content to the CVM
Craft not only helped develop these slides with her fellow Climate Champions, but she has also collaborated with her advisee, Marie Gilbertson, ’17 DVM, PhD student, to deliver a module based on these slides to fourth year veterinary students during their animal, public, and ecosystem health rotation. The rotation is hosted by Tiffany Wolf, DVM, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the CVM, who expanded it to incorporate a larger focus on the module delivered by Craft and Gilbertson. Craft says Gilbertson’s perspective as a recent graduate of the DVM program is essential to making the content accessible and applicable for veterinary students.
Climate change’s impacts on health are the main emphases of the curriculum. “One of the big challenges with climate communication is highlighting the relevance of climate change to people’s lives,” says Gilbertson. “We push veterinary students to think critically about what we are talking about and envision what it means for their veterinary practice. We help them develop the skill of hearing about climate change’s impact on human health and thinking about how it will affect their clients and patients. We’re teaching them to make that step on their own.”
Since the DVM curriculum is already packed, Craft says that integrating this two-hour module into Wolf’s two-week rotation is the perfect way to deliver essential content on how climate change affects veterinary medicine and vice versa.
Climate change and veterinary medicine
The field of veterinary medicine is perfectly situated to make a real difference in combating climate change. Veterinary medical professionals are already prepared to have tough conversations with clients and are well-equipped to discuss how climate change will affect patient and client health. Gilbertson also points out that dealing with climate change is a veterinarian’s given duty: “The oath I took as a veterinarian to promote public and animal health means that this is part of my responsibility.”
The nature of the profession also allows veterinarians to establish a shared value system with their clients about animal health and welfare. “Climate change can be negatively impacting the health of clients' animals,” Craft says. “Veterinarians can provide solutions that we could all be doing together to slow the negative impacts of climate change.”
But practicing veterinarians can also help limit climate change’s negative effects during their day-to-day practice. “We veterinarians use a lot of medical devices that are totally disposable, so using reusable devices in some instances could be helpful,” says Gilbertson. “Gas anesthetics are also really potent greenhouse gases, and veterinarians may tend to anesthetize more often than human medical doctors because our patients require it for more procedures. We need to be trying to find a balance between achieving the highest-quality patient care and being more sustainable.”
“The oath I took as a veterinarian to promote public and animal health means that this is part of my responsibility.”
Marie Gilbertson, DVM, PhD student
Collaborating for climate health
Gilbertson is approaching the curriculum implementation not only as an alumna of the DVM program at the CVM but also as co-chair of Health Students for a Healthy Climate, a group of interdisciplinary health professional students across the U of M. She says talking about climate change with health professional students from across disciplines has shaped her view on climate change’s role in veterinary medicine. “Ultimately, all of our waste will affect our patient care and health in the grand scheme of things. As health professionals, our voices can have a lot of impact, and when you put us all together, we can achieve even more.”
Collaborating with interdisciplinary colleagues to strive toward a healthy climate has proven rewarding for both Gilbertson and Craft—something they hope to share with future veterinarians. “The goal is that eventually every member of the graduating class will have discussed climate change in veterinary medicine at some point,” Craft says.
Illustration by Hairun Li
Photos courtesy of Meggan Craft and Marie Gilbertson