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Your Environment. Your Health.

Visionary Ideas: Education and Training

New Strategic Plan

Visionary Ideas

NIEHS established a special website for visitors to submit, vote on, or comment on Visionary Ideas, as well as discuss strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for NIEHS. Visionary Ideas are as submitted, unedited for grammar or spelling.

Idea 1: Better communicate environmental impact

Find better ways to communicate and educate public and law makers the impact of environment on public health and how this understanding, change in attitudes, research, and investment can improve not only the health of individuals but health of the economy by lowering the burden of health care cost.

Idea 2: Community leader environmental health research institute

Much of the research dollars go to novel work that may not actually have an impact on reducing environmental exposures and improving environmental health.  NIEHS should do more to train and fund community groups to perform and lead their own community-driven environmental health research.  NIEHS should establish regional Community Leader Environmental Health Research Institutes so community leaders and groups can receive research training, receive pilot grants, and obtain training on the translation of their research into interventions and solutions.

Idea 3: Educate healthcare providers on multiple sclerosis

I was given a "partial" diagnosis of MS, and then simply told to come back If I had anymore problems. I wasn't given any information about MS relapses. what causes them, or how to prevent them. Doctors need to be able to give that info to patients, especially when it is not given as a diagnosis. How are we supposed to be aware of how to take care of ourselves when we are not given any information???

Idea 4: Engage youth to show how the environment influences health

Young people are interested and willing to research how environment influences health outcomes. Teach youth to create their own health messages, use those messages in mainstream society, and connect youth (especially inner-city youth) with policy makers so they can see the full scope of creating a campaign that will have a major effect.

Comment 1

I have worked with city and suburban youth on various public health video projects. They were engaged, excited to learn about public health and more than able to create videos using technology that they have grown up with and enjoy.


Teaching by way of having fun!


Comment 2
 People do not just wake up as adults and become aware and involved. It is a developmental process and the earlier we begin our awareness the more likely that it will frame what we do with our life.

YES! For sure have a major component that involves the youth, all youth, in research and ways to share the findings that are generationally, to coin a word, engaging! David Arond,MD,MPH


Comment 3
Importantly teach our children how to write public comments, how to research pollution and environmental health risks, how to make a protest sign and conduct and effective protest campaign, how to know when they are being mislead by the poison pushers.

Idea 5: Environmental health pipeline program

NIEHS should do more to develop environmental health pipeline program in communities that have a high level of environmental health issues.  This type of program can engage youth in high school and expose to environmental health research related to their local environmental health problems.  After successful completion of the high school program, participants should have the opportunity to apply for undergraduate fellowships similar to funding made available through MARC/MBRS.  If the participants successfully complete this program, then they should have the opportunity to apply for graduate fellowships or assistantships at national NIH, EPA, or ORISE research labs.  This type of pipeline program may be a more effective way to train more environmental health scientists from underrepresented racial/ethnic and economic groups, but are overrepresented in the burden of environmental hazards and contamination in their communities.  The field of environmental health science is not diverse or representative of the US population.  NIEHS should do more to diversify the field and also work with Schools of Public Health who have environmental health departments and training programs to hold them more accountable particularly institutions who receive large amounts of federal funding but have made little or no effort to train scientists from underrepresented groups or hire trained scientists from underrepresented groups as faculty at their institutions.

Idea 6: Expand awareness of environmental health careers

In order to solve our environmental health problems, we need more and better qualified students to enter environmental health sciences research.   We need innovative programs that encourage and promote high school and undergraduate students to connect, communicate and work with scientists, graduate students and postdocs engaged in environmental health research. This will build skills, promote awareness of environmental health research, and ensure a well qualified applicant pool for graduate schools.  All NIEHS-funded research grants (including R15's) should be encouraged to add supplements to promote student participation and increase awareness of environmental health careers among undergraduate and high school communities through novel  educational outreach activities.

Idea 7: Highlight the STEM disciplines

Too often the young are told (inappropriately) that "Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical" disciplines are  hard or un-rewarding.  NIEHS should bolster its Career and Training Outreach Programs to assure that the very young are not turned off before they take the opportunity to try becoming interested in such disciplines.



I think this is a laudable goal and one for which the NIEHS has already made a great investment. For example, see the Environmental Health Science Education page:

There are currently 11 NIEHS-supported Short Term Educational Experiences for Research (STEER). Some of these programs specifically target high school students (for example, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory supports up to 8 high school students from Maine to work in a lab for the entire summer).

Idea 8: Increase pediatricians' understanding of EH-related issues

Parents learn about EH-related exposures to their children through the popular media, Internet, and friends. Then they turn to their doctor to ask for advice and help. But their doctor often hasn't been trained in EH-related exposures, may not believe that these exposures are important, may not include questions about environmental health in their patient assessment, and may lack the resources to help their patients do something about these exposures even if the doctor identifies them. Research the barriers to increasing doctors’ understanding of EH-related exposures to children, and to getting doctors to integrate environmental health exposures in their assessment and treatment of their patients.

Comment 1

What is EH? Environmental Health?

Comment 2

This is why medical schools need environmental medical units, so they can see how their patients respond in a clean environment on an elimination diet, if necessary. Seeing is believing. See comment under chemical susceptibility.

Idea 9: New interdisciplinary training for EHS

Focusing training on rising areas of research, such as epigenetics and redox signaling is insufficient for the broad base of knowledge that the next generation of environmental health scientists need. Training should involve biochemical and molecular biology with toxicology, pathology, and epidemiology.

Idea 10: NIEHS needs to participate in K01 mechanism

With the growing need to incorporate new methodologies, exposure and susceptibility factors (genetics, epigenetics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.) in understanding the health effects of environmental exposures, there is even a greater need to foster career development efforts for junior investigators who would be able to address these issues to advance the science, guide policy decisions and promote public health. Recently, NIEHS has decided not to support mentored career development for research scientist (K01). This decision will have serious consequences on the capability of the scientific community to address environmental health issues. Therefore, there is a great need for the NIEHS to participate in K01 application in the near future.

Idea 11: Physician training regarding toxic environmental exposures

Set up a training webinar series for pediatricians and OB/Gyns to better understand toxic environmental exposures, to be able to advise patients on how to avoid them and to learn how to treat them when they occur.

Idea 12: Public health education for the next century

I would suggest that we open a discussion concerning the current approach to teaching and motivating science, especially public health related fields such as biology. As opposed to the parochial and antiquated division of subjects as rendered by most universities today, it would seem to me that many students  would benefit from a better integration of the core subjects.  This would still include basic foundational science courses, but would add some bridges and applications. Packaging this as an undergraduate public health major would make good sense.  This would offer a scientifically well rounded out curriculum enriched, perhaps, by such additional topics as the dramatic history of epidemics, human and animal (which led to microbiology, epidemiology, public health practices and the field of infectious diseases); basic ideas of toxicology (motivating chemistry and physiology); and an elementary exposure to the basic mechanisms of disease / pathology to tie all of these subject together.  I need not go on with specific suggestions, as others will have their own equally useful ideas, but this type of curriculum, still heavy in science but more diversified, would serve to introduce students to public health at the entry level. It would also provide a really modern and useful foundation for those aspiring to nursing and medical programs.  It is a major disadvantage to wait until graduate school and age 30 to start a masters in public health.  This kind of program simply integrates a great deal of what is already offered to undergraduates and provides better motivation and superior career options.  MEO

Idea 13: Understanding “toxic” torts

The U.S. legal system is not suited to the handling of what has become known as "toxic" torts as it is difficult to demonstrate manifest injury from most substances under the system. The public can benefit from understanding this limitation and may be able to work toward changing the current system for one that can better recognize, and address health outcomes from exposures to a variety of substances. The work of NIEHS can provide some of the defensible, science-based facts and arguments to effect such change.


The toxic torts issue is gravely crucial to workers' compensation/medical disability/health insurance claims -current and future. Those working in occupational environments subject to toxic substances that have not been standardized or whose approvals were repealed are often engaged to do legal battle for medical coverage and compensation while fighting the debilitating diseases. The legal battles often outlast the lifetimes of those so-injured. Separating out the science from spin and sentiment, and evidence-based research from political/economic hyperbole is a very worthy endeavor.

Idea 14: What are the critical needs for training the next generation?

•Teachers almost universally request excellent curricular materials and, over an d over, used the phrase “hands-on” activities as being effective in teaching environmental health science to young students.
•Teachers desire teacher development and training in environmental health sciences in the form of courses, workshops, seminars, and summer internships.
•Educators see the interface between institutions of higher learning and public schools (and presumably church-sponsored and other private schools) to be of tremendous value.
•School visits by scientists and other environmental health professionals bring expertise to the classroom and provide role models for young students.
•These educational enhancements play an important role in schools with limited resources such as rural schools and schools in under-served and lower socioeconomic areas and with mostly minority students.
•It is important to reach students at a young age while they are still open-minded about science and career choices.
•Show young students the relevance of environmental health science to their lives and communities.

Advanced Training
•The single strongest theme is on training expressed in the repeated use of the terms multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and cross-training. Different arrays of disciplines as being those most pertinent, but the multi-disciplinary theme is consistent.
•Training in team science; as a way of bringing more fields to bear on research.
•Cross-training funded by NIEHS in Environmental Pathology and Toxicology, and in Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
•The recruitment of more clinicians and the M.D./Ph.D. cross-training of graduate students are both encouraged.
•Statistics and bioinformatics are fields where there is tremendous need and a scarcity of professionals.
•Pediatrics is another specialty in environmental health sciences as being in scarce supply; even where interested trainees exist, there is a lack of mentors. 
•Training in social and behavioral sciences and related fields as various as anthropology, economics and psychology may be needed to better translate research in the biological sciences to public health applications in intervention and prevention.  There is a gap in understanding the social and human factors in public health.
•Diversity in ethnicity, gender, and differently-abled provides a wider demographic of talent as well as a wider perspective on under-served populations.  Diversity should be designed into training programs as a fundamental part of improving the science.
•The importance of stability of funding for graduate students and fellows, as well as for career development for working scientists.

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