BIDMC and Harvard launch Climate and Human Health Fellowship

Nov. 26, 2019

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC); the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; and the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE) have launched a first-of-its-kind Climate and Human Health Fellowship. The two-year fellowship, run through BIDMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine, now trains physicians to examine and advance evidence-based policies that help build climate-resilient communities and health systems.

“There’s a large unmet need for the medical community to educate the public about the health impact we're going to see as a result of our changing climate,” said Satchit Balsari, MD, MPH, emergency medicine physician at BIDMC and Co-Director of the Climate and Human Health Fellowship. “Our goal is to train the next generation of physician leaders to have a seat at the table, preparing communities and health systems to be more resilient to our rapidly changing climate.”

The fellowship’s research and advocacy priorities for 2019-2021 include forecasting demand and response strategies to protect the medically vulnerable during natural disasters nationally, and increasing community awareness, mitigation and preparedness strategies in the Mystic River watershed, locally.

“Physicians have been conspicuously absent on issues of climate change and health, yet are the most well-respected and effective science communicators in society,” said Jay Lemery, MD, a Harvard FXB fellow and Co-Director of the Climate and Human Health Fellowship. “Our goal of this Fellowship is to enhance the knowledge base and communication skills of physicians so that they may more effectively convey these health risks and advocate for multi-sectoral solutions.” Lemery also directs the Living Closer Foundation fellowship at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Medical providers on the front lines of our nation’s healthcare system play a critically important role in protecting health from climate change,” said Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, interim director of Harvard C-CHANGE and Co-Director of the Climate and Human Health Fellowship. “This fellowship, among the first of its kind in the world, will equip clinicians to deliver better care amid the climate crisis.”

BIDMC, the Harvard FXB Center and Harvard C-CHANGE welcome the inaugural fellow, Caleb Dresser, MD, an emergency physician at BIDMC and a Harvard Medical School affiliate. Dresser is studying the impact of extreme weather events on vulnerable communities in Boston, with a particular focus on those with electricity-dependent medical needs. Through the course of his fellowship, Dresser will explore the long-term impact of urban heat islands and tropical cyclones on population health and forced migration.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to help individuals, communities and the healthcare systems that serve adapt to climate change,” said Dresser. “Climate-related hazards such as heat stress and flooding can have devastating consequences, which we are already seeing in our clinical practice; our vision is to develop scalable means to address these via a combination of primary prevention, policy recommendations, and institutional adaptation.”

Fellows hold a clinical appointment at BIDMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine and Harvard Medical School and are based at Harvard FXB and Harvard C-CHANGE. In addition, fellows have the opportunity to be mentored by faculty from across Harvard University, including the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics and the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The fellowship is part of the LCF Consortium on Climate & Health Science Policy, in partnership with the Climate & Health Science Policy Fellowship at the University of Colorado. Off-site education is obtained through internships and visiting scientist opportunities at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other sites.

BIDMC has the story.