Aubrey Doede Spotlights Teddie Potter

by Aubrey Doede, Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

When I came to this year’s Planetary Health Annual Meeting, I will admit that I was not as excited as in previous years. In fact, I would even say I was discouraged and disheartened. As a PhD student working on the health effects of air pollution and climate change, working on these issues is difficult enough (is it too late to make a difference anyway?). Coming from a nursing background also has challenges of its own, as I am normally the only nurse in a room full of nurses who is interested in the interaction between health and the environment. When there is more than one of us, the focus is typically on issues that keep nurses in the nursing world — recycling medical supplies, “greening” hospital buildings, sometimes going as far as alerting recent patients with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions to stay home because of poor local air quality.

Put simply, I was struggling to find the joy in what I was doing.

This made meeting Dr. Teddie Potter at this year’s Planetary Health Annual Meeting such a breath of fresh air. As the Director of Planetary Health in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota at the intersection of population health and climate change, Dr. Potter is a nurse who has made planetary health and interdisciplinary studies a central facet in her career and in what she teaches students. What was more exciting is that she is the first nurse I have met who has taken a larger, ecosystem-level approach to address our current most pressing issues.

During the meeting, I attended the workshop led by Dr. Potter — titled “Becoming a Planetary Health Professional: Theory to Practice” — where a number of speakers reflected on the different ways in which they have applied the planetary health model to human health theory, education, and practice. We were also fortunate to benefit from the presence of two members representing the perspective of Indigenous Peoples from several areas in North America as we discussed the current practices and assumptions of healthcare today and the necessary changes needed to shift our paradigm to a more sustainable model.

When speaking with Dr. Potter individually, I began to describe to her my research trajectory but also conveyed my sense of directionless-ness as I near the end of my time as a graduate student. After all, nurses learning who perform research based on environmental science concepts are not all that common, and taking a job at a school of nursing, while relatively simple and straightforward as career choices go, doesn’t automatically come with an obvious next step in pursuing planetary health research. Dr. Potter gave me what is bound to be one of the best pieces of career advice I will receive:

“You can’t expect to find a next step laid out in front of you; you just need to take a step, and the path will form under your feet!”

So, as I embark on what I hope to be the end of the last phase of my PhD work, I will be doing so with a much more optimistic confidence that in this new and forming field, the path will, in fact, form beneath my feet.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.

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Planetary Health Alliance

Generating better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education