In August 2021, the world received terrible news from the IPCC: the 6th assessment report is their “starkest warning yet” regarding current global climate issues (1). That news is everyone’s business, whoever we are. As a physiotherapist, I have been preoccupied too, and today, I wanted to share with you the story of how I decided to pursue a master’s in environmental sciences and what I hope to achieve with this degree.
Human health and climate change challenges have been of great interest to me since my early adolescence. For pragmatic reasons regarding employability, I chose physiotherapy over climate science, and I am very satisfied with this choice: our profession is extremely rewarding, especially now that the stress of the beginner practitioner is gradually wearing off. But I remember that during my studies I was regularly thinking about how pressing and challenging the current global climate issues are and that it would be awesome to have a dual hat. I had no idea how to actually combine these two fields, until one day in class, around the end of my bachelor studies, when the lecturer unknowingly redirected the course of my life: there she stood, casually mentioning that she was conducting a study to see if an outdoor environment can enhance cognition recovery in severely brain-injured patients (2), and recounting how she was exposing the participants to the hospital’s garden… and something clicked in me––my drive finally took form, I just had to try and see how it would work out!
In the first year of my career, I dedicated some time to actually research the existing links between the environment and human health (and of course discovered that there is a myriad of them!), I followed an online course about the health effects of climate change (3), which I recommend, I joined the EPA and, above all, after finding out that there was a master’s program in Environmental Sciences in the city where I live that accepted applications from health professionals, I applied for the part-time curriculum …and got in!
PT, MSc student in Environmental Sciences
Polina is a physiotherapist in Switzerland, who recently embarked on the adventure of obtaining a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences with the hopes of linking healthcare with current environmental challenges and sustainability. She also enjoys photography and spending time outdoors, especially hiking in the Alps.
Very soon, I will be starting the 2nd academic year of this master’s degree and it has been a challenging, but amazing experience so far. In the past two semesters I have learned about atmospheric sciences, energy technologies, biodiversity, conservation, urban ecology and planning… just to name a few. These subjects are very diverse and there is a running gag about how students with a natural sciences background struggle with courses rooted in social sciences, and vice-versa. It sometimes seemed as I was doubly concerned: Not only did I have to remember maths, physics, and chemistry, but also learn new concepts from geography, sociology, economy, and even law! Fortunately, my interest in those fields only grew, and therefore my motivation to do my best remained unchanged.
Next year, I will be writing my master’s thesis and I must admit that until now I had a lot of trouble deciding what subject I should tackle for this occasion. I especially have had a lot of trouble linking environmental sciences to physiotherapy directly, links to more general or global healthcare being easier to find. To resolve this issue, I intend to take as many health-related courses as I can from now on. I hope this will help, but it is worth mentioning that, as far as I know, none of the lecturers has a health-related background. There actually seems to be very few health professionals who consider pursuing these kinds of degrees. In the current flock, I am the only student with this background.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, I am doing my best to broaden my personal research. With the help of the content of the courses I followed and the assignments I have done, my interest has grown for subjects regarding the health-related ecosystem services that a high degree of biodiversity can provide, the possible contribution of public health interventions to biodiversity conservation and vice-versa, the health benefits of greenspace exposure, the evidence-based practice as a tool for sustainable physiotherapy, the exploration of the potential of physiotherapy to promote biodiversity conservation, and the health stakes of a higher biodiversity implementation in urban environments.
For now, all of these ideas are pretty vague, but if you are interested to brainstorm on any of those, please feel free to contact me!
To conclude, I just want to say that I really hope this path and whatever subject I end up choosing for my master’s thesis, and what awaits beyond, will somehow enable me to make a meaningful contribution to healthcare, physiotherapy, and our environment; I also hope that maybe in the future, more health professionals might consider embarking on a similar adventure as I have, since there is now a growing consensus that human health and well-being are in close relation with animal and ecosystems health (4), which calls for more interdisciplinarity across human health sciences, and those related to wildlife and the environment (5).
1) Harvey, F. (2021, 9 August). Major climate changes inevitable and irreversible – IPCC’s starkest warning yet. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/aug/09/humans-have-caused-unprecedented-and-irreversible-change-to-climate-scientists-warn
2) Attwell, C., Jöhr, J., Pincherle, A., Pignat, JM., Kaufmann, N., Knebel, JF., Berney, L., Ryvlin, P., & Diserens, K. (2019). Neurosensory stimulation outdoors enhances cognition recovery in cognitive motor dissociation: a prospective crossover study. Neurorehabilitation, 44, 545-554, https://doi.org/10.3233/NRE-192692
3) EdX. (2021). The Health Effects of Climate Change. https://www.edx.org/course/the-health-effects-of-climate-change
4) Sleeman, JM., DeLiberto, T., & Nguyen, N. (2017). Optimization of human, animal, and environmental health by using the One Health approach. Journal of Veterinary Science, 18, 263-268. https://doi.org/10.4142/jvs.2017.18.S1.263
5) Gruetzmacher, K., Karesh, WB., Amuasi, JH., Arshad, A., Farlow, A., Gabrysch, S., Jetzkowitz, J., Lieberman, S., Palmer, C., Winkler, AS., & Walzer, C. (2021). The Berlin principles on one health – Bridging global health and conservation. Science of the Total Environment, 764, 1-4, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142919