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Addressing the Health Impacts of a Changing Climate

News
Article

Ethan Sims, MD, spoke with Dermatology Times on having positive conversations, cutting down on waste, and how to get involved in change.

At this year’s Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SDPA) Annual Summer Dermatology Conference, Dermatology Times talked to Ethan Sims, MD, about his session on the health impacts of a changing climate. Sims touched on pearls such as:

  • Having positive patient and community conversations on topics such as climate change
  • Cutting down on waste to create a greener facility
  • Organizations and resources for physicians interested in fostering change

Sims is an emergency medical physician at Emergency Medicine of Idaho, the medical director for sustainability at the St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho, and the founder and board member of the Idaho Commission for Climate and Health.

Transcript

Ethan Sims, MD: My name is Ethan Sims, and I'm an emergency physician from Boise, Idaho. I am the medical director for sustainability at the St. Luke's Health System, which is the largest employer and largest healthcare system in the state of Idaho.I'm also the founder and board member of the Idaho Commission for Climate and Health, which is an organization that focuses on the health impacts of climate change, as well as how healthcare is contributing to climate change.

Dermatology Times: What will you be covering during your SDPA session?

Sims: I’m going to talk, hopefully without causing too much climate despair, about how climate change has already come to us, and how we're already seeing health effects of climate change through increased heat, air degradation from wildfire, smoke, mental health challenges, and then I'll offer some derm-specific topics to look at how the skin is impacted by climate change. Then, I'm going to talk a bit about how healthcare is contributing to climate change. I think the most obvious area that we all see is through waste, because we've all opened a package designed for a procedure that we use 1 item of and then throw 10 away and see the trash bags full of plastic on top of plastic that we use in the healthcare system. But also, some more basic concepts of energy efficiency and waste reduction that we can all use in our daily life and apply at our work.I'll wrap things up with a conversation about why dermatologists care about climate change and how you can interact with your patients and your community, in a way that is positive, about leading to climate solutions.

DT: How can physicians have constructive conversations with their patients about climate change?

Sims: I live in the state of Idaho, and “climate” and “change” are not allowed to be said in the same sentence in the state, so I'm very comfortable with the concept this is not everybody's cup of tea, and not something that everyone wants to acknowledge. You really just have to meet people where they are, because everyone has experienced the effects of climate change, whether they acknowledge that it's from human-caused climate change or not. In Idaho, we see snowpack decreasing, and people can't go snowmobiling or downhill skiing because there's less snow every year. For a dermatologist, your patients are going to be exposed to more degraded air quality, which is going to cause their atopic dermatitis to flare more regularly, their psoriasis is going to flare more regularly, or they're going to be exposed to new vectors that are causing infections that are going to cause skin changes they see. So, the opportunity to engage with your patients is when you see those things, acknowledging that the changed climate is part of why you're having these problems, and counseling people on what they can do to keep themselves safe. You don't have to try to convince everyone in your patient population to become vegetarian, but you have to get your patients to acknowledge that climate change is happening and see how they can keep themselves and their community members safe from its effects.

DT: Are there any organizations for physicians to get involved in finding a solution for climate change?

Sims: There are great organizations everywhere. ADA has partnered with My Green Doctor, which I'll talk about in my talk, so that all dermatologic practices can access their resources that they have for how to green your practice. On a national scale, there is also the Medical Society Consortium for Climate and Health, which my state organization is part of. Other organizations looking at greening the healthcare practice include Healthcare Without Harm and Practice Green Health. But this has gone beyond organizations like that, and now larger organizations like the National Academy of Medicine has a great decarbonization playbook. The Joint Commission is offering a sustainability certification for hospital systems, and the Center for Medicaid Studies is looking at including decarbonization practices in the awards process.

DT: What advice do you have for people interested in fostering change?

Sims: Climate change is a big, scary topic, but the solution to doomerism is to do. Really, this is something that has helped me with my wellness and the setting of COVID and the burnout that emergency physicians are facing. I think that dermatologists will see this as well in their life, that when you hear something that sounds depressing and overwhelming, you don't have to solve it all at once. You need to do a little bit every day, and that will really help you and the world become a better place.

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