U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
NIH News
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Thursday, October 21, 2004

Doctors and nurses need more environmental health training to prevent, recognize, and treat diseases caused by environmental exposures, according to a new study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Experts recommend that medical and nursing schools add environmental health topics to training programs.

“We know pediatricians want to provide the best care possible,” said Dr. Allen Dearry, NIEHS associate director. “We want them to have the tools they need to protect their patients against environmental hazards.”

A group of experts made up of physicians, nurses, and educators issued recommendations to incorporate environmental health into pediatric medical and nursing education. The study, conducted by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, also identifies key medical and nursing organizations that could help promote environmental health training, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. The study results will be published in the December 2004 issue of “Environmental Health Perspectives.”

The expert group studied the medical and nursing education systems from undergraduate education through continuing education courses. The experts identified places in the educational systems, such as licensing exams and field work for nurses, where environmental health could be incorporated. The group also recommended that government organizations should focus on advancing children’s environmental health issues.

The study reviewed ongoing evaluations of medical and nursing training programs. Previous studies have shown that pediatric residency and undergraduate medical and nursing education programs do not routinely include comprehensive pediatric environmental health training in their curricula. Few pediatricians are trained to ask their patients questions on environmental exposures or give advice on environmental poisons, although most see patients with health issues related to the environment, and the majority of parents have expressed worry about their children’s exposure to environmental poisons. Furthermore, childhood diseases related to the environment in American children, such as lead poisoning, asthma and cancer, cost Americans billions annually.

The group of experts included representatives of National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Association of American Medical Colleges, American Public Health Association, Children’s Environmental Health Network, George Washington University, Medical University of South Carolina, Children’s National Medical Center, Temple University, Oregon Health Sciences University, Rutgers School of Nursing, Northeastern University, Drexel University, Howard University, and the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.

“It’s essential that we give more priority to pediatric environmental health,” said Leyla Erk McCurdy at the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. “By following our recommendations, pediatric health care providers will be better equipped to recognize, treat, and prevent diseases related to factors in the environment.”

John Schelp