October 2022

Co-designing planetary health education with and for health professional students

Planetary health challenges, such as climate change, are a significant threat to human health. Health professionals and health systems must be leaders in the adoption of more sustainable healthcare practices that benefit both planetary and human health. Dedicated planetary health curriculum that considers these factors is urgently needed to prepare future health professionals to change how healthcare is delivered.

Health professional students and practicing health professionals are already impacted and concerned about climate and environmental changes. As such, their involvement in the co-design of curriculum should be prioritised to enable fit-for-purpose education. In consideration of these factors, our AMEE-funded research project at Monash University, Australia, aimed to explore how to develop an innovative planetary health curriculum co-designed with and for health professional students.

We used design-thinking as a methodology to co-design planetary health education with 22 healthcare practitioners and students, including two participants who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Specifically inviting Indigenous voices into the co-design process was crucial as Indigenous leadership is required for health professionals’ understanding of how to improve human and planetary health (Redvers et al. 2020). Across four design-thinking workshops, we explored participants’ understanding of sustainability, challenges for implementing planetary health education in health professions curricula and potential solutions for addressing these challenges. Participants’ proposed approaches included: implementing formal and informal educational activities, offering planetary health electives, creating sustainability-focused work integrated learning, sustainability competitions, the use of digital learning, and prioritising Indigenous perspectives in education activities. From these proposed solutions, we designed a workshop that prioritised Indigenous voices and perspectives of climate change and explored how future health professionals can practice critical allyship for planetary health.

We implemented the workshop with students studying nutrition and dietetics, medicine, biomedicine and physiotherapy. Students' reflections of the workshop included that they gained new understandings of health and sustainability through listening to Indigenous voices. Additionally, opportunities for small group discussions enabled the exploration of complexities related to planetary health and challenged preconceptions. We consider that these reflections are critical first steps in fostering purposeful uncertainty and transformative learning as a way of building students’ capacity to develop new understandings of the world. Altogether, we found that design thinking provided a useful way for faculty to partner with students and practitioners to co-design possible educational approaches to rethink current healthcare practices.

On behalf of: 
Jessica Abbonizio, A/Prof Michelle Lazarus, A/Prof Gabrielle Brand, Gitanjali Bedi, A/Prof Julia Choate, A/Prof Fiona Kent, Dr Shane Pritchard and Prof Claire Palermo