What do tomorrow’s doctors need to learn about ecosystems? – A BEME Systematic Review: BEME Guide No. 36

Sarah Catherine Walpole, David Pearson, Jonathan Coad, Stefi Barna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Human health is fundamentally determined by the health of ecosystems. Guidance is lacking about how to address the topic of ecosystems within medical education.
Aims: To determine the nature of discussions around ecosystems in the educational, medical and medical education literature. To identify learning needs of tomorrow’s doctors.
Methods: A narrative synthesis approach was used. Systematic searches were completed in 14 databases. Two independent reviewers screened results. Preliminary synthesis included textual descriptions and quality appraisal. Data were analysed using the Education for Sustainable Healthcare framework and thematic analysis. Relationships between studies were explored. Best evidence synthesis, contacting authors of primary studies and critical reflection reinforced robustness.
Results: Six thousand seven hundred and fifty-three abstracts and 123 full texts were screened. Twenty-seven studies were included. Many studies lacked clear reporting. Medical students and doctors displayed knowledge about ecosystems, but lacked confidence to enact sustainable practices. Education about causes and consequences of environmental change is required. Few studies proposed specific learning objectives.
Conclusions: To prepare for roles as health care workers and leaders, medical students must learn about relationships between ecosystems, health and health care. The Education for Sustainable Healthcare framework outlines essential knowledge and attitudes but requires addition of practical competencies. Further research should explore the framework’s relevance in different contexts, in order to structure training accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-352
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number4
Early online date10 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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