Interview with Teddie Potter

Teddie Potter, nurse, professor, Population Health and Systems Cooperative, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota. Co-founder of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate.

Teddie Potter, Population Health and Systems Cooperative Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, School of Nursing University of Minnesota. Photo: Sarah Whiting.

Tell us briefly who you are and describe your role and history in the work on sustainable development within healthcare?

For over two decades, I have been actively involved in trying to mitigate climate change and promote sustainability. Early work included developing a national Earthwise sustainability movement for the United Church of Christ and teaching nursing students and practicing professionals about the health impacts of climate change and the need for rapid mitigation. I also co-founded Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate and participated in numerous actions to raise awareness.

I first learned about Planetary Health in 2018. “Planetary Health is a solutions-oriented, transdisciplinary field and social movement focused on analyzing and addressing the impacts of human disruptions to Earth’s natural systems on human health and all life on Earth” (Planetary Health Alliance, n.d.). This emerging field and growing movement aligned with my core values and systems thinking. It gave me the language, perspective, and global community to amplify my work and sustain my hope.

Since that time, I have dedicated my career to promoting and advancing Planetary Health. In 2019, I was appointed the first Director of Planetary Health for the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota. I co-authored the Planetary Health Education Framework and I am currently working to promote Nursing for Planetary Health through the International Council of Nurses.

What would be the most important message to our staff at NVS about planetary health and sustainable healthcare? 

Everyone is necessary to bring forward the Great Transition! The Sao Paulo Declaration for Planetary Health clearly lays out what we must do to preserve life on this planet.

“We need a fundamental shift in how we live on Earth, what we are calling the Great Transition. Achieving the Great Transition will require rapid and deep structural changes across most dimensions of human activity.”

Sao Paolo Declaration for Planetary Health

For your staff, this does not mean you leave your current work and become biologists or conservationists. It means you do your current role and all future roles with a Planetary Health lens. It means you approach ever decision, every purchase, and every action with these questions in mind: How will this impact all life on the planet? How do my actions impact the quality of life for future generations? Do my decisions foster and promote a better and more just future that we believe is possible?

What advice would you like to give to our staff at NVS who want to start contributing to changing education and research based on sustainable development?

I highly recommend that you ground yourself in the knowledge and application of the two documents previously mentioned.

  • Sao Paulo Declaration for Planetary Health: This document offers a shared vision for global systems transformation. It is a blueprint of the changes that need to be made and the expected outcomes of our collaborative efforts. It speaks to separate sectors and the unique contributions that they can make. For example, you might want to focus on international organizations (p. 6), researchers (p. 7), or universities and higher education (p. 9).
  • Planetary Health Education Framework: If the Sao Paulo Declaration provides the vision for a Great Transition, the Planetary Health Education Framework, provides a shared language and core principles to educate all disciplines so they are fully equipped to co-create the Great Transition. This document ensures that nurses and other health professionals can collaborate with farmers, engineers, business leaders, and other sectors to create the deep structural changes that are necessary.

Are there any important partners (for example outside academia) for us who work at a medical university that can give us important input in our work with sustainable development in education and research?

There are many organizations working in this space. Obviously, the Planetary Health Alliance but also the London School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine Center for Climate Change and Planetary Health. You will also find excellent climate and sustainability competencies through the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education at Columbia University.

I particularly like to steer people towards the following for ideas about how to transform the practice of health care.

If an employee wants to know more about your work on sustainable development and healthcare - where can they turn? (e.g. a website, organization or specific publication).

Planetary Health Education Framework and Sao Paolo Declaration on Planetary Health

Text: Emma Swärdh, May 2023.

Content reviewer:
Annika Clemes