Nutrition Training for Young Doctors Lacks Bite

Marlene Busko


October 13, 2017

Lack of Nutrition Training Persists in Residency

"I think that in general, nutrition relates to topics that are under the umbrella of prevention, and prevention is substantially underemphasized in medical training," said Dr Devries. Some medical schools may feel that "there are just too many subjects to cover," or that nutrition training is best left to registered dietitians.

"The problem is that there is not really a consensus on how important nutrition is, and what kind of nutrition should be taught," according to Dr Kohlmeier. "There is certainly no accountability, because there are just a few questions on the board exams," he noted.

And yet, doctors need to be able to "emphasize to patients that nutrition is a priority and help [motivate] patients to see a dietitian or nutritionist or health coach," said Dr Devries. They need the knowledge and insight "to really impress upon the patients how important the nutritional component" of health is. "It gets even worse when they get into a residency program," he continued. "There are far too few mentors and opportunities to learn about nutrition."

A recent study found that only 14% of residents believed they were adequately trained to provide nutritional counseling, he noted.[6]

As reported recently in Medscape, among more than 900 cardiologists surveyed by Dr Devries and members of the Nutrition Working Group of the American College of Cardiology, 90% reported that they received minimal nutrition training or none at all during their cardiology training.[7,8]

Online Courses, CME, and 'Healthy Kitchen' Initiatives

"It took a major effort to really get everybody on board and say 'OK, look, [smoking] is just not good,'" said Dr Kohlmeier. "We are still not at that point with poor diet." However, some medical schools are showing that nutrition education can fit into a busy med school curriculum.

One half of all US medical schools and osteopathic schools and many international medical schools now use a free, online program that was developed by Dr Kohlmeier and other members of a Nutrition in Medicine team.

The current version contains 40 modules, ranging from 15 minutes to 1 hour long, that provide, among other things, virtual patient interactions with immediate feedback. The program is suitable for both med students and practicing clinicians.

As another option, the nonprofit organization that Dr Devries belongs to offers a 3-hour "essentials of nutrition" course that is focused on clinical pearls, includes "motivational interviewing" as well as links to the original literature, and costs $50, said Dr Devries.


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