UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer & Jennifer Armenta, Green Impact, November 2015

Anya Desai Recognized for Efforts with a UCSF Sustainability Award

AnyaAnya Desai, a third year medical student at UCSF, was recognized for her dedication to social justice, the environment and health, as well as for creating a new UCSF elective and engaging the next generation of healthcare professionals. Every year, UCSF Sustainability Awards are granted to staff, students and faculty that promote sustainability at UCSF and this year the student award was given to Anya Desai for organizing an Environmental Health and Social Justice Elective during the fall of 2014.

During this five-week elective, speakers were invited to present on a wide range of issues from environmental justice to the greening healthcare, focusing on the Bay Area and California. Anya engaged the UCSF community by inviting presenters and facilitating open debate on various topics. The class addressed issues ranging from air quality and human development to food systems and worker health. Working closely with Dr. Gina Solomon, the 2015 faculty Sustainability Award Winner, and fellow medical student Zachary Wettstein, Anya partnered to instill a culture of sustainable practices. She worked to integrate a hands-on field component to the elective, which set out to document environmental injustices in students’ own backyard in Richmond and Bayview/Hunters Point. 

Anya believes that health and the environment are inextricably linked and seeks to bring conversations about environment and sustainability into medical schools, hospitals and clinic exam rooms. According to Anya, climate change and other environmental problems pose a huge threats to human health, but are often not addressed in health professional school curricula. Her work focused on confronting issues of climate change as well as incorporating environmental issues into health assessments.

Elective Covers a Range of Topics

The elective Anya helped organize covered a range of topics and panels, including:

  • Intro to Environmental Health and Justice
  • Air quality, Pediatrics and Human Development
  • Energy Extraction and Human Health
  • Agriculture, Food Systems, Pesticides and Worker Health
  • Climate Change, Healthy Health Systems: Our Footprint as Practitioners
  • Field trips to Richmond and Bayview/ Hunter’s Point

At UCSF, Anya also co-led the Student Health Professionals for Social Responsibility and Remedy, a group that collects unused medical supplies and donates them to MedShare, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving healthcare and the environment through the efficient recovery and redistribution of the surplus of medical supplies and equipment to those most in need. 

Anya’s next goal is to integrate environmental issues into the regular curriculum by meeting with the co-chair of the Curriculum Assessment and Evaluation Steering Committee, who is helping to develop the new UCSF medical school curriculum.

Anya concludes with a call to action for faculty, staff and students. “One action I would like to see others take is to stay curious about how environment affects health. Ask someone what they do for a living and get a sense of what environments they are exposed to. Keep reading as we learn more about the effects of climate change on disease vectors and human health. Keep an ear open for new chemicals and food additives that may be harming us, and - perhaps most importantly - include environmental costs in terms of pollution, energy use, and chemical exposure when determining the costs and value of healthcare.”

Story by Green Impact