Back to School! Is Planetary Health in Your Backpack?

by Teddie Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN, FNAP

The leaves are starting to turn, and for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, that means a new academic year has started. Around the United States, faculty in American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) accredited schools of nursing are busy modifying current courses and designing new courses to meet the new Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nurse Education (AACN, 2021). This transitional time is therefore a perfect opportunity to create curriculum to teach future entry-level nurses and advanced practice nurses about Planetary Health.

The School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota has been an early pioneer of planetary health education in nursing. The school’s vision was modified to, “Optimum health and wellbeing for all people and the planet.” To reach this vision we are embedding planetary health content in our prelicensure programs, in every Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) specialty, and in the PhD program.

The AACN Essentials have eight core concepts to be woven through all competencies. The School of Nursing has added Planetary Health as a ninth concept, stating:

The health of humans relies on and is interconnected with the health of the environment. Planetary health moves beyond the built environment included in the social determinants of health, to all elements of the Earth’s ecosystem that impact health, including air, water, land, biodiversity, prevention of zoonotic diseases, climate change, and sustainable practices. Planetary health education includes five key threads: Interconnection within Nature, the Anthropocene and Health (human caused disruption of Earth’s natural systems, Systems Thinking / Complexity-based Approaches in Planetary Health, Equity and Social Justice, and Movement Building and Systems Change (Faerron Guzman & Potter, 2021). Professional nurses consider the impact that health care delivery has on future generations and work to ensure that all nursing research, education, advocacy/policy, and practice support a sustainable planet (University of Minnesota School of Nursing, n.d.)

DNP leadership students did a crosswalk of The Essentials with the five core domains of the Planetary Health Education Framework (Faerron Guzmann & Potter, 2021). This crosswalk ensures we are threading planetary health through our entire curriculum while meeting the core competencies for professional nurse education.  This crosswalk and other resources are available on the School of Nursing’s Planetary Health website.

Human caused environmental changes are threatening the health of all life on the planet. As the nation’s most trusted profession, we need nurses to help create the systems changes that are required for a healthy future for all. We especially need the knowledge and skills of public health nurses (Kurth & Potter, 2022), so we hope you will join us!


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2021). The essentials: Core competencies for professional nurse education.

Faerron Guzman, C., & Potter, T. (2021). Planetary health education framework.

Kurth, A., & Potter, T. (2022). The public health crisis is planetary and nursing is crucial to addressing it. American Journal of Public Health, 112(s3), s259-s261. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2022.306877.

School of Nursing University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Planetary health.

Resources and Links

Teddie Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN, FNAP, is deeply committed to climate change and planetary health education, including membership in the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, and membership on the American Academy of Nursing Environment and Public Health Expert Panel. She is a member of the Coordinating Committee of Columbia University’s Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education and a Fellow in the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She chairs Clinicians for Planetary Health (C4PH) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Planetary Health Alliance. She currently serves on the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the US Health Sector, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies, and the newly launched Climate Crossroads committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Dr. Potter is the inaugural director of the Center for Planetary Health and Environmental Justice at the School of Nursing, University of Minnesota.

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