Wellbeing Series for Planetary Health: Part Two

Wellbeing Series for Planetary Health • Part Two

This event was held Sept. 30, 2020

Teddie Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN, Leah Prussia, DSW, LICSW, SEP, and Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, MD participated in a lively panel discussion that was held during the lunch hour. Building on the rich experience provided by Part 1 of the Wellbeing Series for Planetary Health, in this event attendees were inspired to learn about the efforts being made toward planetary and human health in Minnesota, and had the opportunity to engage directly with the panelists.

Taking actions toward a healthier planet and community are acts of social justice. Join the Bakken Center in this grand challenge today.


Teddie M. Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN

Clinical Professor, Director of Planetary Health at the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing

teddie porterPlanetary Health is an emerging field that addresses the human caused disruptions of our environment and the impacts that that has on human health. Dr. Potter will discuss planetary health and how it can inform and guide our practice, research, and service to local and global communities.

Dr. Potter is deeply committed to climate change education including co-founding Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, membership in the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, and membership on the American Academy of Nursing Environment and Public Health Expert Panel. She is a member of the Coordinating Committee of Columbia University’s Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education and a Fellow in the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She chairs Clinicians for Planetary Health (C4PH) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Planetary Health Alliance at Harvard. At the University of Minnesota, Dr. Potter designed and co-teaches an interdisciplinary course titled “The Global Climate Challenge: Creating an Empowered Movement for Change”. In 2019, Dr. Potter was appointed the first Director of Planetary Health for the School of Nursing.

Leah Prussia, DSW, LICSW, SEP


Solastalgia refers to an individual, group, or community’s mental, emotional, and/or spiritual reaction to the negative transformation of one’s environment (Albrecht, 2010). Though this term is new to western science, the response is familiar to Indigenous communities that have endured forced displacement and continue to witness destruction of ancestral homelands. Dr. Prussia, Associate Professor at the College of St. Scholastica and practicing clinical social worker, will share the initial findings of a 2019 joint research project with the Minnesota Department of Health, which surveyed mental health professionals about climate-change related anxiety and distress observed in sessions. 

Dr. Leah Prussia is a self-described “tree hugging dirt worshiper.” She uniquely blends Indigenous teachings from Nature, Peter Levine’s Somatic Experience work, Relational-Cultural Theory, and Cognitive-Behavioral approaches to address the biopsychosocial and spiritual aspects of individuals, groups, and communities. Her background includes knowledge and practice in mental health services, substance use, trauma, and program administration. Leah is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the State of Minnesota and sole proprietor of Natural Connections LLC. Leah is a full-time associate professor in the Master’s in Social Work Program at the College of St. Scholastica and an adjunct professor at Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College. Leah recently completed her dissertation, which focuses on the role of nature in the healing process, through St. Catherine University – University of St. Thomas.

Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota's Division of General Internal Medicine

Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, MD

Our health is inextricably linked to the health and wellbeing of our planet. Dr. Surapaneni, assistant professor and practicing physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, will discuss the disproportionate health impacts of environmental damage in Minnesota and how we can use the lessons learned from the pandemic to design resilient health systems and societies. She will also discuss her approach to climate action via legislative advocacy and science communication.

Dr. Surapaneni is an Assistant Professor in the Department of General Internal Medicine. She holds a public health degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Surapaneni’s area of interest is climate change and its impact on human health. At the Academic Health Center, she is the climate champion for the medical school. She works with an interprofessional group of champions to educate students about climate and health. She is the faculty advisor for Health Students for a Healthy Climate. She was invited to provide expert testimony at the Minnesota State Capitol on the public health impacts of climate change. As a science communicator, she gives regular talks to the general public about how climate impacts health, and was interviewed by MPR and City Pages.

We poorly understand the ways in which multiple complex, coincident, and interacting environmental changes will alter habitability and drive population displacement, but these changes are likely to be associated with large burdens of disease and disability. Little is currently understood about how the combination of climatic disruption, natural hazards (e.g., droughts, heat waves, floods, fires, tropical storms), water scarcity, land degradation, and resulting crop and livestock failures may interact to make parts of the world that currently support large numbers of people uninhabitable. How many people are likely to be displaced? What populations are most vulnerable? And when people are displaced (many of them with very few resources) into areas where they may not be welcome, will civil strife ensue? We know that such displacement is associated with sharp increases in infectious disease outbreaks, malnutrition, and physical and mental trauma. What are the best approaches to managing increasing requirements for population movement with the least conflict and health burden? These types of questions require urgent focus.
-Planetary Health Alliance