Maria Cassar, RN, PhD
A department of nursing with climate ambitions
Maria Cassar, RN, PhD
Pragmatic, passionate, and prepared, Maria Cassar and her colleagues are eager to fight climate change through education. As Head of the Department of Nursing at the University of Malta, Maria incorporates awareness raising into her daily work.
“It’s a profession that seeks to take care of humankind”, said Maria about her choice to become a nurse.
Besides being a health professional, Maria is also a dedicated nurse educator. She is head of the department of nursing and a senior lecturer at the University of Malta. Through their work, Maria and her colleagues regularly meet with people from all over the health and social care systems in Malta, including patients, nurses, relatives, nursing students, and management.
“We appreciate that this puts us in a very privileged position in that we can be vehicles for messages that go beyond nursing curricula and education programmes”, she said.
This opportunity to increase awareness about the need for climate action propelled Maria and her team to engage with the Nurses Climate Challenge: “(We wanted to do) our own little bit to educate and increase awareness (of climate change and its impacts) and perhaps enable action amongst healthcare professionals”, she said.
Since they started, Maria and her colleagues have reached out to and educated thousands of healthcare workers across Malta about climate and health. She believes this was possible because they incorporated their efforts towards addressing the challenges of climate change and protecting the environment into their everyday work. “We would talk about what we needed to talk about as educators,” she explained, “but as an adjunct, we try to bring in small presentations about climate change, the challenges associated with climate change, and how healthcare workers can help mitigate and contain these challenges.”
Although global awareness may have inspired her to take action, Maria is also aware of the environmental challenges closer to home. “Malta is a small Mediterranean island with great weather, heritage and history, but it faces the same environmental issues as other countries”, Maria said.
Although “the environment and its protection is becoming increasingly important in our lives as Maltese”, she warned that it will be a huge challenge to strike a balance between doing as little harm to the environment as possible and “doing what needs to be done” as a healthcare professional. “Stepping back from possibly maximising the comfort for patients in order to protect the environment is a constant dilemma”, she said.
Maria emphasises that a lot of education but also a lot of sacrifice will be needed: “How would you explain to a patient that we are going to turn down the AC in order to protect the environment and that they’re going to be recovering from surgery in a less cool/comfortable environment?”
Nonetheless, she continues to be hopeful about the power of education and that people will make the right choices in the end. She also believes that just a few minutes of awareness raising can make a difference.
“To be honest, most times there is an element of scepticism, maybe even an element of bewilderment, as to what nursing and nursing education have to do with climate change and the protection of the environment” she said, describing her experience giving presentations and delivering learning modules to nurses and other healthcare professionals.
However, in Maria’s experience, using practical and relatable examples has led healthcare professionals to accept and understand how they can play a role in addressing the challenges associated with climate change.
The Department of Nursing’s work caught the attention of key players in Malta including the Directorate of Nursing within the Ministry for Health. “They supported us, and sent delegates/representatives to our events.”
Maria encourages other nurses to join the Nurses Climate Challenge. The Challenge is easily accessible, and most importantly requires little effort, she said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to do something effective with an impact without going too much out of your way”, she explained.
Maria currently lives in Malta. She has pursued studies and worked as a nurse in various countries throughout her professional career. She enjoys walking and swimming in the warm Mediterranean climate of Malta. Her professional interests are nurse education and curriculum development.
Are you interested in joining the Nurses Climate Challenge Europe? Sign up today.
Are you an educator like Maria? To make the inclusion of curricular content addressing climate and health the norm in nursing programmes, we are also looking to partner with a small and engaged group of leading nursing schools from across Europe to establish a Nursing School Commitment. Please get in touch with us if your nursing school is interested in joining our Working Group.