Giving health agencies a stronger voice in climate policy

| Deirdre Lockwood
Sam Lovell stands on a rocky outcrop with mountain peaks and tents in the background.

MPH student Sam Lovell presented at the 2022 American Public Health Association meeting with help from the DEOHS Environmental Health Student Support Fund. Photo: Courtesy of Lovell.

DEOHS MPH student Sam Lovell identifies barriers and opportunities to help states advance their climate and health work

husky giving day icon


On April 6, 2023, join the UW community for Husky Giving Day to raise funds that support UW students and programs. Your donation supports students like Sam through the DEOHS Environmental Health Student Support Fund, which helps graduate students pay for research-related expenses, including travel and conference presentations to share their research. 


Sam Lovell

MPH, Environmental and Occupational Health


Topsfield, MA

“I feel really thankful to be part of our department, because if you find an opportunity to learn more or experience something professionally, there usually is funding for it.”

- Sam Lovell


How did you get interested in studying environmental health?

I've always loved work at the intersection of the environment and human health. After college, I did advocacy work at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, DC. I worked on federal chemical safety issues including lead, other water contaminants and air pollution. I loved the mix of policy and research.

In going back to school, I wanted to focus my research on climate change. I also wanted to gain a broader understanding of public health issues like the social determinants of health.

How did you decide to do an MPH in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS)?

I love the research-to-action component of so much of the department’s research. That's one of reasons I wanted to work with my adviser, DEOHS Assistant Professor Nicole Errett, because she does such exciting research that aligns exactly with my interests. I only applied to UW. I felt like my choice was: come and do research with Nicole, or don’t get a master’s.

There’s such unique research happening in the department on so many different topics. It's exciting to be part of a research community that's on the cutting edge of really important issues.

You recently presented your research at the American Public Health Association (APHA)’s annual meeting. Tell me about that project.

I worked with a research coordinator at the UW Collaborative on Extreme Event Resilience (CEER), Cat Hartwell, to conduct focus groups with state health agency professionals about their climate work. We partnered with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to identify barriers and understand opportunities to help states advance their climate work.

We talked with public health professionals from states that are leading on climate work and also those from states that don't really have climate and health programs but are working on climate in the context of broader environmental health issues or emergency preparedness.

What did you find?

We recently published a study in BMC Public Health with our findings. The project underscored how lack of capacity limits the ability of health agencies to get involved in work on climate.

National organizations like ASTHO and APHA and academic institutions serve vital roles in helping on the capacity side not only by doing research, but also by bringing folks together, and developing resources so states don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Funding through the US Centers for Disease Control has been pivotal for some states in creating climate and health programs. For states that didn't get that funding, it's hard to get funding for climate work, because sometimes you need proof that you have some work going, but how do you start?

Why is climate research important to you?

Working in this field is one way to feel as if I can make a difference on an issue that is overwhelming and often depressing. It’s a way to make progress and go beyond individual-level action to fight climate change.

This project, specifically, was interesting to me because it focused on the role of health agencies in climate. We found that public health and health departments are often left out of the conversation on climate, even though the reason we need action on climate is because of its impacts on health.

Understanding more about the power of health agencies in this work, and trying to figure out ways that they can advance their efforts, is really exciting. It’s important to get public health professionals at the table in climate policy discussions.

How did attending the conference support your work?

I gave a presentation in a climate change session with other researchers, mainly professors, and it felt great to be able to do that as a student, and to represent CEER and the department as well.

I feel really thankful to be part of our department, because if you find an opportunity to learn more or experience something professionally, there usually is funding for it. Nicole is a fierce and wonderful advocate for all of her students and colleagues. I feel so lucky to be working with her.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love hiking. That's one of the reasons I wanted to move here. I also recently started skiing. Hiking, backpacking and skiing take up a lot of my free time—that and my cats.


Environmental health news delivered to your inbox monthly: