In a strange paradoxical manner, the past two years revealed the environmental impacts of humans on the environment. In the first few months of the pandemic, the world went into crisis mode as the globe went into lockdown. People were sick, scared, and confined to a small indoor space. However, the unintentional pause of the global hustle and bustle sparked an unbelievable change in the environment. The brown canals in Venice turned blue, skylines became crisp, and fossil fuel consumption significantly decreased. I like to think that the Earth sat down and breathed for a few months, which is a refreshing thought given the grim impacts of the pandemic. However, the Earth did not remain in lockdown for more than a few months, and the temporary environmental solution ceased.
Today, the Earth’s climate is changing at a record high rate, and now scientists are scrambling to find a viable solution. It took a major pandemic and global lockdown to provide temporary environmental relief. How can we possibly fight this ongoing global crisis? Many people are nervous, anxious, and scared of the climate change beast. Though the challenge is very daunting, I believe each of us can play our part to combat the changing climate. I am confident that climate change can undergo death by 1,000 (or in our case 7.75 billion) papercuts. So, how can I personally take on climate change as I look into my future?
Well, as we saw in 2020, the temporary improvements in air quality, water quality, and fossil fuel reductions were directly linked to a pandemic – a medical crisis that affected the entire globe. Although there were certainly improvements in many environmental factors, the amount of medical waste rose drastically during the pandemic. Medical waste remains a large problem today, as the disposal of medical waste releases toxic gases and compounds such as greenhouse gases. Thus, there is clearly a direct link between healthcare and the environment through both disease transmission and medical products, which in turn impact the changing climate.
Looking into the future, I am confident I can have a positive impact on the environment through my career in family medicine & orthopedics. In my opinion, the best part of family medicine is caring for patients throughout their lives. Family medicine and internal medicine physicians truly know their patients, watch them grow and mature, and serve as a source of trustworthy guidance and support. I believe in the power of conversation, therefore talking with my future patients about healthy habits throughout their lives excites me. In terms of the environment, I would encourage patients to spend more time outside for exercise, meals, and work if possible. Following up on these conversations over the years with my patients gives me confidence that I can guide others to find a connection to their environment. I am optimistic that this method of practice will light a spark within my future patients to find their own ways to tackle climate change through their environmental connection and appreciation.
If my career leads me to a more orthopedics and sports medicine route, I would be passionate about implementing environmentally friendly materials into my practice. In today’s field of medicine, research is being conducted to find solutions for prosthetic waste. It is estimated that roughly 300,000 non-biodegradable plastic limbs are discarded and not reused every year. Plaster of Paris (POP) is a widely used material for prosthetics. There is controversy regarding its environmental safety, however, researchers and doctors are working on solutions to create recyclable prosthetic limbs. There are devices being created such as a prosthetic limb socket made from recycled water bottles that costs a customer $14.
I would be absolutely thrilled to implement environmentally safe and economically conscious materials into an orthopedics practice, and better yet I would talk with my patients regarding why my practice uses those materials. I strongly believe in the future of orthopedics, and I am confident that by implementing environmentally friendly materials, my future patients would have a new outlook on the environment. Given that sustainable materials would be part of their body, their connection to the environment would be very personal and intimate, and through this intimate relationship, my patients would find their own ways to fight climate change.
No matter how gloomy or hopeless the world may seem at times, we have the power through small acts to make a change, prompting others to do the same. I am optimistic and excited that through my career in family medicine and orthopedics, I can implement strategies and practices to reduce medical waste while inspiring my patients to find their own connections to the environment, which I believe is one small step in combating the global climate crisis.
By Owen DeAngelis