Doctors Lack Environmental Health Training

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, October 25, 2004 (ENS)
Doctors and nurses need more environmental health training to prevent, recognize, and treat diseases caused by environmental exposures, particularly in children, finds a new study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Childhood diseases related to the environment in American children, such as lead poisoning, asthma and cancer, cost Americans billions annually, but few pediatricians are trained to ask their patients questions on environmental exposures or give advice on environmental poisons, the study found.

Medical and nursing schools should add environmental health topics to training programs, advised the physicians, nurses, and educators on the scientific team. The group also recommended that government organizations should focus on advancing children's environmental health issues.

Most pediatricians 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, but doctors and nurses are not trained to address these issues, the study found.

"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."

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 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.

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."

The study, conducted by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, points to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners as organizations that could help promote environmental health training.

The study results will be published in the December 2004 issue of the NIEHS journal "Environmental Health Perspectives."