Background: Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Medical students will lead the health sector responses and adaptation efforts in the near future, yet little is known in China about their knowledge, perceptions and preparedness to meet these challenges.
Methods: A nationwide study was conducted at five medical universities across different regions of China using a two-stage stratified cluster sampling design. A self-administered questionnaire was applied to collect the information including perception, preparedness and educational needs in response to climate change. The data were first analyzed descriptively, then chi-square tests and kruskal wallis tests were applied to determined differences among subgroups, and logistic regression analysis were deployed to detect the socio-demographic factors influencing student’s perception.
Results: A total of 1436 medical students were approached and 1387 participated in the study (96.6% response rate). Most students were aware of the health impacts because of climate change, with over 90% perceived air quality-related and heat-related illness, while only a small part identified undernutrition and mental health. Approximately 90% embraced their role in tackling climate change, but 50% reported themselves and the health sectors were not adequately prepared. Compared to clinical students, preventive medicine students were more likely to perceive their responsibility to address climate change (OR:1.36, 95% CI: 1.04, 1.78). Also, 80% students admitted insufficient information and knowledge on climate change and health. Most students agreed that climate change and its health impacts should be included into their current curriculum.
Conclusions: Medical students in China were aware of climate change and felt responsible, but were not ready to make responses to its health impacts. Educational efforts should reinforce eco-medical literacy development and capacity building in the era of climate change.