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Nurses to the front! Maya Reshef Kalogirou confronts climate change in the E.R.

By Jenna Bell

Not too long ago, I joined 4,000 Edmontonians at the legislature to speak out about the climate crisis. There were people of every age, profession and heritage. We stood together as one.

It really inspired me to see so many different people who were fired up and demanding a solution to the climate crisis. It made me realize that you do not need an environmental science degree to help create a greener future. Sustainability can be front-and-center in anyone’s life — teachers, lawyers, chefs… and nurses.

Maya Reshef Kalogirou is a registered nurse and University of Alberta PhD student who is paving the way for climate action in her profession. With her dissertation, she hopes to show that nurses have a big role to play in combating climate change. Her field work investigates Alberta nurses’ perceptions of climate change, and how the hospital setting impacts a nurse’s ability to practice environmental stewardship.

How did you first start thinking about climate change and nursing?

I always cared about other people and the environment, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was a huge advocate or anything. And then after reading Noami Klein’s This Changes Everything, I became super disturbed. Our global climate is changing severely — it’s a crisis. So where are nurses in this? In my mind, we have a role to play here. Let’s make Canadian nurses a part of the conversation.

Why is it important to study nurses and their ability to combat climate change?

Nurses make up over 50 per cent of the healthcare team internationally. And in a hospital, the first person you talk to is a nurse. People trust nurses too. So, in my mind, nurses need to be aware of what climate change is, and be prepared for emergencies because these types of crises are only going to become more common. The question is not whether people will be affected, it’s how many people will be affected. I think that nurses are just really perfectly positioned to take a leadership role on this.

How much research is being done on this area?
(Can we call you a pioneer?)

Yeah, I would say that there’s a lot of ground work being done. I know a nurse for example, in Calgary who is totally revamping her hospital. She managed to get vegan and vegetarian options in the cafeteria and as meal choices for patients so they can actually choose a lower carbon-impact option. It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t think would be such a big deal, but it actually is really difficult to change.

Have you left the emergency room behind you forever?

I worked in the emergency room for five years. And it was — it was intense. It was bananas. And you know, you both love it, and at the same time, it’s just very stressful work. I do hope that my future has some sort of professional practice in it. But I can see how it wouldn’t. The climate change advocacy work is more important to me… because I have a greater sense of purpose, I feel like I can make more change in that domain.

What do you hope to come of your research and your work?

What I’m really hoping for is to start a movement. I want nurses to be front and centre. I don’t want blank looks when I tell people I’m doing a thesis on climate change nursing. I want it to be common knowledge that this is an area where healthcare practitioners need to be concerned and a part of finding solutions.

On top of her doctoral research, Maya represents Alberta in the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE). Read more about Maya’s work with CANE.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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