Environmental issues hidden in medical education: What are the effects on students' environmental awareness and knowledge?

Z Evid Fortbild Qual Gesundhwes. 2022 Sep 2;S1865-9217(22)00138-6. doi: 10.1016/j.zefq.2022.07.006. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Global warming is one of the major challenges faced by society. To raise students' awareness related to these issues, we embedded environmental learning goals in mandatory courses. The aim of this initiative was to determine whether the integration of environmental topics into a seminar focussing on non-environmental issues facilitates changes in the environmental knowledge and awareness of students.

Methods: Third-year molecular medicine students (intervention group, IG) were assigned short environment-related tasks in a not environment-related scientific writing seminar. Using standardized questionnaires before and after the seminar, students were assessed with a set of up to 48 questions relating to environmental affect, cognition, behavioral intention and knowledge as well as specific personal aspects. The comparison group (CG) consisted of third-year dentistry students who were assessed twice during an equivalent pre-post time period and who did not attend the seminar. The analysis was carried out with 15 students from the IG and 14 from the CG.

Results: Integrating environmental topics into a scientific writing seminar focussing on non-environmental issues leads to a significantly increased level of awareness of the threats from climate change in the IG (p<0.05). No further significant changes in other areas of environmental awareness were observed in either group. In addition, the environmental knowledge of the IG students (p≤0.01) but not of the CG students (p=0.285) was significantly enhanced.

Discussion and conclusion: This study shows that factual environmental knowledge on the issues addressed can be increased by a cautious approach of environmental communication. However, more deep-seated personal attitudes and environmental awareness cannot be sustainably changed using this low intervention dose.

Keywords: Climate communication; Environmental awareness; Environmental communication; Environmental knowledge; Klimakommunikation; Medical teaching; Medizinische Ausbildung; Umweltbewusstsein; Umweltkommunikation; Umweltwissen.