Like thousands of other medical students in Canada, Kevin Liang had no idea he would be asked to take more than 10 flights during his last year for in-person residency interviews. “After learning this, I knew I had to quantify the climate impact from thousands of students travelling for CaRMS (the Canadian Resident Matching Service).”

Kevin, a resident in family medicine at the UBC Hospital in Vancouver, co-authors Jessica Q Dawson and Matei D. Stoian, also from UBC Medicine, and three other co-authors at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, UBC, and Concordia University, quantified the impacts of this practice, and have just published a study in the journal Medical Teacher titled, “A carbon footprint study of the Canadian medical residency interview tour.”

The results were sobering, but also offer a clear path for action.

The total carbon footprint of flights for the 2020 CaRMS was 4,239 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), an average of 1.44 tCO2e per applicant.

The average amount of CO2 emitted by a Canadian medical student flying for CaRMS interviews represents 35.1% of the annual Canadian household emissions per capita.

Flying for CaRMS represents 69% of an average Canadian medical student’s total carbon dioxide budget in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

The emissions of 26.7% of respondents actually exceeded their entire annual ‘2050 carbon budget.’

This footprint can be virtually eliminated – a switch to online interviews can avoid >98% of emissions.

“Mandatory in-person residency interviews in Canada contribute significant emissions and reflect a culture of emissions-intensive practices. Considerable decarbonization of the CaRMS tour is possible, and transitioning to virtual interviews could eliminate the footprint almost entirely,” notes the paper.

Now Kevin and co-authors are supporting a culture of engagement and advocacy to #keepCaRMSvirtual as part of their efforts (and many others) to decarbonize the entire Canadian healthcare system.

“As we watch wildfires blanket BC after a record-breaking heatwave, it is now evident that climate change is the most significant health threat of the 21stcentury. I hope this research adds to the growing calls to curb greenhouse emissions across Canada and across all sectors, including health care,” Kevin Liang, Family Medicine Resident, UBC.