Member Experiences

Our members write about their experiences with MS4SF, climate change and health, and their future plans.

Kate Pommert’s MS4SF Experience

Kate is an MS2 and MS4SF Campus Communications Representative at Oregon Health & Science University. She writes about her MS4SF and climate health experience.

Posted on 05/02/2020

When I think about my first week of medical school, what I remember is the dizzying confusion of orientation and the sense of anticipation of starting a new chapter, all shrouded in suffocating smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon’s beloved Columbia Gorge. If you’ve never experienced a wildfire before, it can only be described as apocalyptic. Every time you walk outside your eyes water and your lungs burn to the point where you are forced to stay inside – a sentence of isolation which we are all now familiar with due to COVID-19. Sometimes the smoke was so thick that it was hard to see across the street. It seemed dark in the middle of the day and if you caught a glimpse of the sun it appeared to be a blood red orb burning through the haze. My excitement at beginning the journey to become a doctor was in stark contrast to the despair I felt for the health of our planet.

Over my first two years of medical school, I have been taught the scientific foundations of medicine and realized that every aspect of human health is vulnerable to climate change. In a recent class on climate and health connections, I learned that increased heat and air pollution is associated with severe health consequences such as greater risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and delayed development in children(1). Infectious diseases are spreading more widely and unpredictably. The COVID-19 pandemic has already been immensely disruptive to life on our planet – imagine if this became our new normal. These direct health effects are in addition to the disastrous societal consequences like mass migration and food insecurity, which will significantly impact public health.

As long as we continue on our current course and do not significantly cut emissions climate change will have an increasingly devastating impact on our world. We will lose loved ones, loved places, and livelihoods. As a future physician, I will face the consequences of climate change in the deteriorating health of my patients and community. I must learn how to protect my patients from climate change and take action to demand our society to reduce emissions.

About a month ago, amidst the frenzy and panic of COVID-19’s global expansion, I got an email inviting me to join a new national group of medical students who are concerned about the health effects of climate change: Medical Students for a Sustainable Future (MS4SF). I did not have to think twice about signing up. It has been so reaffirming to meet other students who are worried about the state of health of our planet and who are organizing to take action. I have since been empowered to start a local chapter at my medical school, Oregon Health & Science University. Combating the climate crisis will require uniting our local, national, and global communities. I have always found comfort in taking action, and I am excited to begin this work for the health of my community with MS4SF.

  1. Salas RN, Solomon CG. The Climate Crisis — Health and Care Delivery. New England Journal of Medicine. 2019;381(8):e13

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