Students Get Out of the Classroom and Into Nature to Learn about Ecohealth

8 students linking arms outside near water and trees

March 14, 2023

This February, the Center for Interprofessional Health (CIH) and the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs brought a group of eight interprofessional learners to the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories in north central Minnesota for the third rendition of the Itasca Ecohealth IPE Experience.

Justine Mishek, MHA, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Health's Division of Health Policy & Management, and Roni Lafky, an interprofessional experiential engagement specialist in the CIH, led the intensive weekend-long collaborative learning retreat which is designed to foster appreciation for ecohealth principles and geopolitical considerations in health. Learners explored unique cultures, values, roles and responsibilities, and expertise of other health professions and the impact these factors can have on health outcomes. They also analyzed interprofessional case studies and spent time in nature with a guide learning about the local ecosystem and the health benefits of spending time in nature.   

“A significant benefit to this experience is being outdoors in the winter, where we explored the frozen lake, went snowshoeing, and took a nature hike where we learned about the winter habitat and how animals survive the cold,” said Mishek. “Dr. Erika Timko Olson also joined us to share her experience on the benefits of nature and forest bathing to help decompress from work stress.” 

Evan Walter, a medical school student on the Duluth campus, said he chose to participate in this experience because it seemed like a good way to get out of the classroom and into nature. 

“I was excited to talk with other professional students about ecohealth and learn more about the intersection of health and the environment,” Walter said. “It was nice to see students that were like-minded and just as concerned about how the environment is changing as I am.”

Cameron Grund, a nursing student and IPE Scholar, says they enjoyed being able to fully immerse themself into planetary health, One Health, and rural health. 

“The health of all beings and the planet are so interconnected. We are literally nature! Let's heal the planet and our communities!” Grund said.

Grund says they would “absolutely recommend” this experience to other health sciences students not only for the short, formal education sessions, but for the time to hang out and learn about fellow classmates. 

"While the curriculum and case studies we engage participants in are, of course, a major part of the experience, the relationships built between our participants—future health professionals—are just as important,” said Lafky. “This experience offering the chance to spend a full weekend together, engaging in topics important to all of them personally and professionally, can create such a special connection between learners that will need to work together with other professions in practice in the future."

Grund agrees, saying, “You can make some really beautiful friendships in a short time. I met some really remarkable and amazing humans on this trip and my heart felt so full of love. It was so inspiring to witness fellow health professional students so passionate about ecohealth.”