March 2019 Champion!

Homan Wai, MD

Internal Medicine Specialist, Inova Fairfax Hospital

A change in one carbon footprint is a step toward a more sustainable planet, but it takes a group to make a big difference. As he works to counter climate change, Dr. Homan Wai keeps this in mind.

Dr. Wai, an internal medicine specialist practicing as a hospitalist at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, is a founding member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action (VCCA), which is part of a growing nationwide network of health care professionals who advocate for state-level policy changes related to climate change and its effect on health. So, while he has made changes in his life, he also helped to make changes at his hospital, and has been a leader in drives to make changes in his state.

“I spread the message by modeling behaviors, looking for ways to reduce consumption and living a more sustainable life,” Dr. Wai says.

Here’s one. At the hospital, Dr. Wai eats off and washes his own plates and silver – so no plastic foam food container, nor plastic spoon, fork and knife. Maybe it seems old-fashioned – an echo from a mannerly time when tableware was washed, not wasted. But over nine years of doing this, Dr. Wai estimates he “saved a few thousand sets of things.” Suppose we all did that…

Of course, Dr. Wai had to persuade hospital food services to go along with this. And in the process, he persuaded others to follow his lead. But the plates are not the point. Intentionality is, because the ideal of bridging the gap generalizes to the movement against climate change.

“The system unfortunately is set up for failure,” Dr. Wai says. “It’s such a convenience just to use what’s there. But I found a way around it.”

At Inova, Dr. Wai works with leadership to make the regional healthcare network greener. He says Inova has taken leadership roles in healthcare sustainability, notably constructing energy-efficient buildings, reducing regulated waste and reusing equipment that can be sterilized. His selling point: “Being sustainable can save a lot of money.”

But solving climate issues takes more than one health care provider. Through VCCA, Dr. Wai works with other clinicians on educating the commonwealth’s legislators and encouraging them to address Virginia’s climate challenges.

Success requires frontline healthcare providers to speak as a group, using research-based expertise, Dr. Wai says: “After all, we are some of the most trusted messengers in society.”