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Student Selected Unit on Sustainability in the NHS and Climate Change

By: University of Southampton Medical School


Southampton offered a student selected unit (SSU) for 4 students in year 3. The unit covered sustainability within the NHS and climate change in a global context. The course took place over 2 and a half months and was varied in pedagogical formats using lectures, seminars, group projects and field trips to local areas of interest. The students that took part in this SSU stated that the course broadened their horizons and that they really enjoyed escaping the norm of sanitised medical education where answers are right or wrong.

Course description:

The first session covered the science of global warming, taking the students back to chemistry and physics that they may have come across in school.  Other sessions, run by a variety of facilitators and lecturers, covered a huge range of topics:

  • The potential health impacts of rising temperatures – Prof S. Padmadas, Professor of Demography and Global Health, University of Southampton
  • Waste management at University Hospital Southamton (UHS) - Mr Andrew Hatcher, Head of waste management, UHS
  • Sustainable transport at UHS - Mr Rui Marcelino, Sustainable Transport Manager, UHS
  • What should we leave our grandchildren – Dr Robin Stott, Climate and Health Council
  • Energy consumption and management - Mr Mark Bagnall, Head of estates, UHS
  • Demographic and population changes resulting from rising sea levels in low lying and delta regions in the world – Prof S. Padmadas, Professor of Demography and Global Health, University of Southampton

There were two field trips, where students visited:

  • University Hospital of Southampton’s Combined Heat and Power Plant
  • Ordnance Survey headquarters in Southampton to see an environmentally sustainable building design, including ground-source heat pump.

The practical application of sustainability was woven through the course,  the final session quantifying the CO2 emissions for a DC cardioversion, bringing together resource use and energy consumption. The students presented their own project work during the final session which included topics such as:

  • Edible cutlery
  • The carbon intensity of beef rearing
  • The impact of rising sea levels in Southampton on healthcare delivery

The students went on to present their findings on DC cardioversion at the Sustainability Symposium in Brighton on 22nd June.

Lessons Learned

Educators leading this SSU have reflected that the initial lesson on the science of climate change would benefit from the production of a glossary of terms before the session.

Feedback on the sustainability teaching evidenced a positive experience for staff and students alike. Students’ feedback stated that they were never bored and that the variety of subjects covered was broad but not exhaustive. Student engagement in the project to carbon footprint the DC cardioversion pathway was particularly well received, suggesting that practical projects that enable students to apply their learning can stimulate engagement.

Course or session dates: 15/01/2016 until 01/04/2016 

Number of students taught: 4

Pedagogical format: Lectures, Seminars and Project-based

Teaching time: 30 hours

Curriculum area: Public Health

Sustainability learning outcomes addressed:

  • PLO 1 - Describe how the environment and human health interact at different levels
  • PLO 2 - Demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to improve the environmental sustainability of health systems
  • PLO 3 - Discuss how the duty of a doctor to protect and promote health is shaped by the dependence of human health on the local and global environment

Southampton, UK

Tom Pierce, tom.pierce@uhs.nhs.uk