A New Report Card for Medical Schools

Usually, it’s the medical schools that issue the report cards, but a group of medical students is turning the tables and issuing report cards on the schools.

The subject is how well the schools prepare students to respond to the worsening climate crisis, which is a planetary health issue.

So far, no school has an A.

The Planetary Health Report Card is a pilot project founded by students at the UCSF School of Medicine and implemented throughout the United States and Canada by members of Medical Students for a Sustainable Future. The organization, created in 2019, has more than 200 members in over 60 schools across 34 states and Washington, DC.

The students know that medical school curricula are only part of the global climate-smart health care picture. But the climate crisis will affect their practices wherever they will be, and the students realize that the old standard curricula don’t go far enough.  So, as researchers, they’re gathering data on their schools.

So far, they have questionnaire-style results on 12 schools, including some well-known ones such as Harvard Medical School in the U.S. and McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Canada.

The highest overall grade any school earned is a B, with seven schools achieving it. The rest had overall C’s.  The grades were based on four categories: curriculum, research, community outreach and advocacy, and support for student-led initiatives.  There were 11 A’s scattered through the categories, with 19 B’s, 10 C’s and – hang your heads, medical schools — seven D’s and one F.

Students and faculty members developed the metrics for each category. For instance, a school could get full marks (two points) for having core coursework on the effects of climate change on patterns of infectious diseases. The school could get one point if the coursework was an elective. It got zero if the coursework wasn’t offered. There was a similar point spread on whether the curriculum identified ways to implement sustainable best practices, such as reducing waste.  A school could get one point for teaching strategies for taking an environmental or exposure history during a patient encounter; zero coverage got a school a zero.

Initiative leaders and Medical Students for a Sustainable Future plans to expand the evaluations to other schools. So, med schools, be warned: expect an annual exam about your own curriculum health, and be ready to show improvement.