Environmental health crises can appear anywhere and without warning. After research revealed a significant incidence of elevated pediatric blood lead levels following a water source change, Genesee County declared a public health emergency in Flint, Michigan. Hospital patients and family members began approaching Hurley Medical Center’s physicians with questions regarding the health implications of the lead contamination. Many of the physicians voiced concerns about responding appropriately to patient needs and increasing demands for information. As a result, a Hurley research team decided to conduct an informal survey across training programs to determine the need for added education.
Because of heightened patient anxiety, it was necessary for the timeline to progress quickly. In creating the survey, the team’s objective was to assess resident and faculty physician knowledge, attitudes, and experiences concerning lead contamination. The results revealed a critical need for supplementary training. Therefore, Hurley embarked on an education campaign for its graduate medical education programs, benefiting physicians and patients alike.
Patient and physician needs may change drastically following an environmental health emergency. It is the duty of medical centers to ensure their clinicians are well equipped to confront such threats. As prompt treatment is often a key to positive health outcomes, the authors stress the importance of acting quickly and suggest conducting informal surveys to identify gaps in physician knowledge. Likewise, the authors encourage medical educators nationwide to examine their environmental health curricula. It appears lead-contaminated water is not just a Flint problem but may have far-reaching implications for many cities.