RIC School of Nursing Accepts the Nurses Climate Challenge

Exterior of the Rhode Island College School of Nursing building
Rhode Island College Impact

“Nurses need to have a voice. They can see the impact in the human body of the decisions that are being made at the policy level."

The Rhode Island College School of Nursing has recently adopted the Nurses Climate Challenge, a national campaign and collaboration between Health Care Without Harm, an international nonprofit that promotes environmental health and justice, and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. The purpose of this challenge is to mobilize nurses to educate 50,000 health professionals on the impacts climate change is having on human health by 2022.

“Nurses need to have a voice. They can see the impact in the human body of the decisions that are being made at the policy level about the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, the impact of weather crises and the impact we make on the climate,” explains Lynn Blanchette ’82, associate dean and associate professor in the School of Nursing.

Blanchette, along with her colleagues who teach community and public health, already cover content related to environment and how it impacts people’s health, see this as a chance to help students understand the project and join the Nurses Drawdown movement, which asks nurses to take specific actions personally and professionally on issues related to the environment. “We’re brand new at this,” she notes. “This is our first semester getting engaged and we are sort of taking advantage of all the opportunities.”

The Nurses Climate Challenge has a variety of activities such as taking action through climate advocacy within the health care settings and the communities; educate others on the health impacts of climate change; mobilize health care settings to mitigate carbon footprint and take steps towards climate-smart health care and also plan, promote, and host an educational event in a health care setting or community; activities which are documented by RIC School of Nursing.

“We’ve incorporated that content into our curriculum, so all students who graduate from our program have a basic core understanding of the impact of climate change on personal health and particularly on vulnerable groups in our community,” says Blanchette. “The next step is to develop a strategy to integrate this further into our curriculum and identify groups on campus –science, community health education, social work – who might want to get engaged in this activity.”

This project is the first national campaign aiming to amplify the voices of nurses, who are 40 percent of the health care workforce, on these issues. Blanchette sees the potential to launch a movement of health professionals committed to climate solutions and to motivate the health care sector to action.

“Nurses have always understood the impact on the body of climate and the environment. We’ve linked it to diseases, shorter life expectancy, and poor maternal outcomes. Now it’s time for nurses to really step into this and say, ‘Believe us. We’re the most trusted profession,’” she explains. “As nurses, these decisions we’re making really do have an impact on human life on this planet. As a group, we’ve tended to focus our energies on helping individuals and families, but we really need to speak more globally and at a policy level.”

The movement reflects a growing realization among nurses, a workforce typically focused on the individual patient, that the political process has the most influence on improving the environment, as well as the ways that climate change is intertwined with personal, family, and community health.

This kind of big picture thinking aligns with some of the School of Nursing’s academic programs, such as the master’s in Population/Public Health Nursing Leadership. “We are educating nurses at the graduate level whose role really is to develop programs and participate in policy discussions around these issues of climate change,” Blanchette says. “Learning to be advocates in the public policy arena is an essential outcome for our graduates.”