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March: Should topics about sustainability and climate change be included in the nursing curriculum?

As someone who could be considered an IT dunce I was surprised to hear myself suggesting using a ‘twitter chat’ to raise the issue of sustainability in nursing education. Social Media is not really my forte but I am prepared to embrace new technology in an effort to push forward sustainability issues in healthcare. I think this is really important for a number of reasons. First, we need to engage with educators, practitioners and students in new ways, so that we can reach a broader constituency, and secondly it is important to reduce our own impact on the environment when disseminating innovation. A paper published in the BMJ in 2007 suggests that there is limited learning to be had by attending conferences with is limited evidence to suggest that attending conferences leads to more effective medical practice. The paper goes on to suggest that online distance learning and new technologies to overcome travel need to be explored.

I did think about the paper and consider the issues of carbon emissions etc before deciding to go to the Royal College of Nursing Education Conference in Nottingham early in March. In the end I thought that it was probably important to be there to raise the profile of the sustainability education in nursing we are delivering here at Plymouth. At the conference I was allocated a ‘concurrent session’ which was not as well attended as other sessions! This is, I think, a sad reflection of the interest and priority climate change and sustainability are given by my profession. All the more reason to find different ways of raising the importance of the subject. In spite of the limited attendance at my session, those present really engaged and were enthusiastic about what we are doing, which was very reassuring. They were particularly interested to see how we engage our student nurses in a way that is relevant to clinical practice, and they were excited about the collaborative teaching and learning we have embedded in the curriculum. Whilst my presentation could have been conveyed as a webinar, and indeed, in June I will be delivering a webinar based on the work that won a Green Gown Award for Learning and Course one of the benefits of attending a conference is the networking and discussion that can happen over lunch and coffee. So my view is that we do need to very carefully consider whether it is really necessary to travel to conferences and be mindful about the impact on the environment, whilst at the same time thinking about alternative methods for dissemination and discussion.

This leads me on to the idea for a Twitter chat. Our NurSus Project team are keen to engage a wide community and specifically student nurses in the development of a framework for sustainability literacy and competency in nursing. We know from the literature, networks and professional organisations that climate change and sustainability, whilst important in healthcare are not topics that feature in nursing education so we wanted to get some discussion going about this. We were fortunate to be able host a wenurses twitter chat on 24th March with the aim of reaching a ‘younger and technically savvy generation’! The topic for discussion was: ‘Should topics about sustainability and climate change be included in the nursing curriculum?’ this was a fantastic opportunity as it is the first time the ‘wenurses’ community (with over 30,000 followers) has run a chat on sustainability. Our chat session coincided with NHS Sustainability Day on 26th March and a Twitter chat associated with that event. 

The build up to the Twitter chat event began a few days before the event with tweets going out to our followers to tell them it was going to happen and provide the background information for the chat. By 7pm on the night I was getting very apprehensive;  lots of tweets were going out about the chat to get us ready for the 8pm start. Then it all kicked off with a quick introduction from the @wenurses team and the NurSus team began with the question: What is sustainability? Followed about 15 minutes with: What topics about sustainability and climate change could be included in nursing curricula? The first 5 – 10 minutes of chat involved people joining in and saying hello and then the discussion began at a phenomenal pace! We had 969 tweets in the hour (over 16 tweets a minute!) devoted to this discussion and tweets continued following the official closure of the chat session. One hundred and nineteen people participated with a reach of 3,306,296! Many participants were students and we also engaged other universities, educators, and environmental activists. Key themes in the discussion about sustainability in nurse education were: curriculum, resources, waste, plastic, practice, clinical (see Word Cloud) at the bottom of the archive page.
I am now convinced that social media is an important way to engage a community in discussion about things that matter. It enables academics to test out ideas and get feedback, and can help to influence our research questions and educational approaches. If you run a Twitter chat, do remember to have a large cup of coffee by your side as you will need to react quickly to catch all the threads, I think I managed about 15%! But all is not lost as the whole chat is archived.

Special thanks to the NurSus team and all the Plymouth and Jaen University students who participated.

Professor Janet Richardson
Janet Richardson 
Professor of Health Service Research in the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences and member of the ISSR Management Team

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