Medical student Celia Walker always loved the great outdoors but was never taught the importance of saving it. Through her travels, education and research, she learned how to use her interest in human health to change that.
Now, she hopes to enlighten the way people, in particular, doctors, think about climate change by incorporating how it affects human health into the medical school curriculum, because as of now there is no mandatory climate change education.
Walker’s interest in the environment came from growing up, where she spent time hiking and camping with her family. Throughout her formative years, she grew that connection to nature.
“It’s really hard to tell someone that has never spent a day in the trees, swam in the pacific ocean, or hiked in the mountains that we should care about protecting these areas,” Walker says.
However, climate change was never talked about when Walker was a child. She was told she should turn off the lights and have shorter showers, but she did not understand the larger impact of harming the environment.
It wasn’t until her “climate reckoning”, a moment where she really felt the impacts of climate change, that she started to understand how climate change affects everyone.
That reckoning came after Walker got her undergraduate degree in biology, and decided to further her education by studying global health for her master's degree. This changed Walker’s perspective because she got to see how climate change affects people globally.
Celia Walker mapping out her hike in her tent on the Sunshine Coast Trail. Photo courtesy of Celia Walker
Walker travelled all the way from India, where she learned about their traditional health care, to Botswana, where she worked on a clinical trial for her practicum. It was in Botswana that she decided she wanted to finally pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Seeing the impact that doctors make in Botswana and knowing deep down that she always wanted to be a doctor, gave her the final push to apply for medical school.
“This was an interesting moment because I knew that deep down that I wanted to be a doctor, but I hadn’t fully told myself. I didn’t feel like there was a right time to go for it until I heard those words and understood why I loved the things that I loved,” Walker explains.
After Walker finished her travelling, she arrived back in Vancouver, where she decided to support the local cause of the Pull Together campaign by raising money to hike the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail.
At this time, the campaign helped stop the construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which would destroy homes of aboriginal peoples in British Columbia. This campaign was what led Walker to become an advocate for climate change.
“When you are scared about climate change, and the state of our future and how fragile it is, doing something about it makes all the difference in the world. It makes you feel like you’re contributing and it feels really good.”
Celia Walker at the Friday’s for Future Rally with Cape in Calgary. Photo courtesy of Celia Walker
After helping this campaign, Walker decided to join the Climate Guides, a mentorship program created and led by youth, in Vancouver. Walker is the first person who applied to this program with a human health perspective on climate change, which is why she thought it was so important for her to take part in it.
“After Climate Guides, I had learned so much and had met an incredible group of people, doctors that I had just looked up to so much. Then I thought to myself, well if this wasn’t another push to do medicine I don’t know what is,” Walker explains.
As a doctor, Walker hopes she will be able to relate to patients dealing with climate change associated trauma. This is when an individual’s mental or physical health has been affected by climate change.
Now in her first year of medical school at the University of Calgary, Walker is a global health and climate change advocate. Her goal is to work on incorporating climate change education into the medical school curriculum, so that future doctors can learn what she has.
“Climate change affects every aspect of our lives and our health. If you don’t care about it, and you don’t understand it, you’re not going to do anything about it.”
- By Cassidy McKay