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Physician Fellow Examines Climate Change as a Public Health Emergency

By Lauren N. Taylor

Hanna Linstadt, M.D.

Linstadt is a practicing emergency medicine physician and a 2021 Climate and Health Foundation Physician Fellow in Climate Change and Health Science Policy at the University of Colorado Department of Emergency Medicine.
(Photo courtesy of Hanna Linstadt, M.D.)

Hanna Linstadt, M.D., a trained emergency medicine physician and current climate and health science policy fellow at the University of Colorado (CU), is taking a year outside of the emergency room to study the relationship between climate change and health. As a 2021 participant of the Climate and Health Foundation Climate and Health Physician Fellowship, Linstadt is applying her research to guide policymakers in developing and adopting climate-smart policies.

"There is a wide variety of work to be involved in," said Linstadt. "The fellowship is there to expose you to others working in different parts of the climate and health field."

Established in 2017, this one-year fellowship introduces physicians to the concepts of climate medicine . The fellowship is equipping Linstadt with the competencies to recognize and fluently communicate climate and health impacts and climate mitigation and adaptation concepts and to build leadership skills to advocate on behalf of policy, clinical, research, and community audiences.

Linstadt explained that because health care providers are embedded in and trusted in the community, they have an opportunity to offer influential guidance rooted in the doctor-patient relationship.

"As a health care provider, I have a unique voice that people want to listen to," said Linstadt. "Worthwhile collaborations can result from providers working with physical science researchers who have hard data."

The fellowship experience is broken down into three categories: (1) education in the form of lectures and presentations to clinical and non-clinical groups; (2) publications with interdisciplinary climate and health subject matter experts; and (3) engagement with science policy work at the local and federal level.

Climate and Health Physician Fellowship

The Climate and Health Foundation Climate and Health Physician Fellowship is directed by Jay Lemery, M.D., and John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., and partially funded by the Living Closer Foundation. The fellowship is a collaboration among NIEHS, CU, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, CU Consortium on Climate and Health, and Harvard University Medical School.

A noteworthy aspect of this fellowship is that it bridges the gaps between clinical practice and science policy. Throughout Linstadt's fellowship, she has been mentored by Jay Lemery, M.D., professor at the CU School of Emergency Medicine, and John Balbus, M.D., senior advisor at NIEHS. This partnership gives fellows the opportunity to learn directly from leaders in the field of climate change and health and observe how science in the field can be translated to inform policy decisions.

"Through the fellowship's relationship with NIEHS, we look inside the window of how policy happens," said Linstadt. "Seeing this process is helpful, because Dr. Balbus sheds light on the inner workings of what happens within the federal government."

Linstadt's interest in climate change and health developed while she was pursuing her bachelor's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California Los Angeles. During this time, she studied abroad in Thailand, where she focused on community and ecological sustainability in the context of the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Inspired by this experience, Linstadt carried the concept of health system sustainability into medical school at New York Medical College and her residency training in emergency medicine at Stanford University.

"The vast majority of negative health impacts of climate change can show up in the emergency department," said Linstadt. "Doing this work as my clinical job gives me a good perspective in terms of what we can do to prevent these negative health impacts from happening again in the future."

Moving forward, Linstadt will continue to fuse clinical work with skills gained from the fellowship. She sees the value in merging her patient experience insights with her refined abilities to teach, research, and advocate for better health protection in the face of climate change. Linstadt looks forward to making more valuable connections in this field to spread the message of climate change as a public health emergency that requires immediate action.

The physician fellowship model will take a new direction in the next cycle to promote continual expansion. In addition to the single fellow based at CU, who will follow a structure similar to Linstadt's fellowship, there will be a cohort of interdisciplinary fellows based in specific partner organizations. As a part of this interdisciplinary cohort, fellows will work on collaborative climate and health projects throughout the year. Updates on the future of the program are posted on the CU fellowship website .

Hubs of Interdisciplinary Research and Training in Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth)

The Fogarty International Center has announced the "Hubs of Interdisciplinary Research and Training in Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth)" Request for Application due July 8, 2021. The GEOHealth program includes seven regional hubs around the world that partner U.S. institutions with low- and middle-income country institutions in collaborative research and capacity building in the area of environmental and occupational health.