Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Outdoor Medicine and the Environment 3

In followup to my previous two posts on this topic:

There are several potential methods for physicians and other healthcare professionals to increase awareness and involvement with environmental issues. First, there should be courses at every level on the relationship of environmental issues to human health. To cover the principles of environmental science and related medical issues, these courses should include information on atmosphere and climate; global climate change; the relationship of climate change and weather to disease vectors and transmission; the effect of climate change on the biology and afflictions of humans, plants, and animals; methods for assessing climate-related health effects; ecology and the environment; biodiversity and human health; natural environmental hazards; causes and effects of environmental contaminants; food and water science; and the causes and effects of population growth. Courses should be prepared and reviewed for accuracy and objectivity by authoritative environmental scientists and educators, in collaboration with medical professionals.

Medical societies and special interest groups, specialty organizations, and research institutes should whenever possible engage experts to summarize the best evidence about the effects of environmental change on health and medical conditions. This continuous process should foster exchange of views that takes into account medical, social, geopolitical, economic, and cultural issues. It goes without saying that the opinions that emanate from the medical profession, or any other profession for that matter, should be science-based to the greatest degree possible. Whenever new evidence emerges, current views may need to be modified as they relate to both the environment and health implications. I think it would be terrific if medical organizations would review their missions, and determine to what extent they are willing to disseminate environmental education material to their membership. Medical organizations should encourage members to become environmentally aware, and consider creating reports and multimedia presentations on global environmental health for delivery to medical professionals, students of medicine, business, government, and the general public.

Persons with special medical knowledge should investigate environmental organizations and consider supporting them with their special expertise. When appropriate, healthcare professionals can develop specific initiatives in collaboration with environmental professionals. Moreover, medical professionals should all learn about companies that truly use environmentally sound practices in their business efforts and consider supporting them. It may not make a big difference to the environment, but if for no other reason than to begin to establish a trend, hospitals and health care practices should make reasonable efforts to become green in ways that promote effective patient care while limiting the negative effect on the environment of providing that care.

And what about the wilderness medicine community? What can a person learn and do who wants to be healthy in the outdoors? The educational goals are to be better informed, become inspired, and take action. In the countless debates that will ensue, physicians and their patients should be positioned to wisely explain the medical ramifications of environmental issues. It is time to eliminate complacency and acknowledge the common “planetary patient” for whom we all share responsibility. Through education and personal resolve, each of us should strive to be active advocates for the environment.

image courtesy of

Preview the 25th Anniversary & Annual Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society, which will be held in Snowmass, Colorado July 25-30, 2008.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.