Education of health professionals in environmental health and environmental medicine

The National Cell Health-Environment launched a feasibility study in 2011 on the training of health professionals in environmental health and in environmental medicine. The goal of this study was to analyse how an education in environmental medicine and environmental health can be integrated in the education programs for health professionals. The report of the study shows that the education in environmental health and environmental medicine must contain a basic training and an continuous training, in addition to a certificate in environmental medicine, so qualified health professionals can specialize.

Context of the study
Up until now, very few health professionals (doctors, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and others) are aware of the impactthat the environment may have on health. The influence of the environment on health however is considerable. For this reason, the National Cell Health-Environment set up a feasibility study. First they made an inventory of the current existing courses on environment and health in Belgian colleges and universities. Then they made a number of recommendations in an extensive report to boost the current range of courses in environmental health and environmental medicine.


Why this study?
According to the World Health Organisation, 14% of the overall morbidity in Belgium consists of diseases which are linked to environmental conditions. There is sufficient scientific evidence on the number of diseases linked to the environment in the overall morbidity, and it’s economic impact.
The health costs linked to environmental exposure increase substantially and put the stability of health care systems at risk. Health professionals should be trained in a way that they can recognize the diseases that are linked to the environment. This way they will be able to give better advise and a better treatment, and reduce the impact on health costs. They must also take preventive action, for example give proper counsel to pregnant women.

Goal of the study
The researchers had 3 goals in mind with this study:

  1. First, they wanted to make recommendations on how environmental health and environmental medicine can beintegrated in the education of health professionals.
  2. In addition, they wanted to make recommendations on the existing and future resources that can support health professionals when they are confronted with questions about environment and health.
  3. And finally, they wanted to provide recommendations on the content of study programs for different education levels (bachelor, master, specialization, continuous training).

Who carried out the study?
The study is an initiative of the National Cell Environment-Health and was carried out in a consortium with researchers coming from:

Results and recommendations
The recommendations in the report, about the integration of environmental medicine into the education programs of health professionals, focus on students and qualified professionals.

  • Recommendations for a basic training: the researchers propose a basic training, aimed at medical students. They should receive at least 5 hours of education during their bachelor’s or master’s education, so they become aware of the theme. A basic training should also be provided at a higher education level for nurses and midwives.
  • Recommendations for qualified health professionals: the researchers recommend to develop trainings (theory and case studies) and internships for qualified doctors who want to specialize in environmental medicine. Based on these studies, which will take at least 80 hours, the doctors can obtain a certificate. The researchers propose to draw up an interuniversity or an international certificate for additional specializations (in environmental health or environmental medicine).
  • Recommendations for the continuous training: practicing doctors who’ve never received any training in environmental health should follow a continuous training.
  • Recommendations for diagnostic tools and general recommendations: health professionals should be supported in their practice when it comes to environment and health by means of kits, help desks, professional networks, databases, communication networks, etc.