To teach patients healthy habits, students first teach themselves

Brendan Murphy
Staff Writer
AMA Wire
Medical student Kimberly Ha

Eastern Virginia Medical School student Kimberly Ha

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Effective treatment of prevalent conditions such as obesity and diabetes requires a nation of physicians who are informed on the issues and capable of effectively coaching their patients to adopt better habits. To that end, students at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) have created nutrition modules that equip medical students to confront these maladies within their communities.

Throughout four years of medical school, the average medical student receives 19.6 hours of nutrition education, and most of that is focused on biochemistry. That—according to research presented by second-year EVMS student Kimberly Ha during the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Student-Led Conference on Leadership—amounts to 1 percent of all lecture hours a student sits through during med school.

“The way my school is approaching nutrition education is very much tailored to how the boards want us to learn nutrition,” Ha said. “I think it’s missing a lot of the practical knowledge about how we want to counsel nutrition to patients. Board testing is one thing. It’s not going to convince your patient to eat more fruits and vegetables. Board testing is more about the biochemistry behind metabolism and that isn’t necessarily what is running through patients’ heads when they are in a grocery store and deciding what they want to eat.”

Training students to train patients

In her presentation, Ha detailed the practical, patient-facing nutrition curriculum that students at Eastern Virginia Medical School are employing within the community. Part of EVMS’ service learning track, the Choosing Healthy Options for Wellness (CHOW) program focuses on nutrition and exercise education with community outreach in low-income patients. CHOW offers free exercise, cooking and nutrition classes at local clinics. The classes are run by medical students.

Before students can run a CHOW class, however, they must first be equipped with relevant nutrition and wellness background information that is not part of their medical school training. To glean the necessary knowledge and skills in proper habits in exercise, cooking and nutrition, students at EVMS have developed a nutrition-focused module for incoming first-year students who will be joining CHOW.

Students are then able to reinforce those lessons while teaching and counseling patients in the classroom setting.

When creating the modules, Ha said the question she asked herself was, “What do student leaders need to know to successfully run a health and wellness course?” The answer included exercise recommendations, cooking demo techniques, and nutrition and healthy eating behavior.

The module, which consists of interactive exercises and concludes with an exam, is tailored toward EVMS students. It is Ha’s hope that the modules can expand to other programs while EVMS students continue to build on CHOW’s success.

“Our patients really enjoy our classes,” Ha said. “You can see them get really involved in discussions. They definitely are doing the jumping jacks and stretching with us and looking forward to trying whatever recipes we are demonstrating. They even tell us how much they appreciate it, and it’s really gratifying to see their enthusiasm and participation, watching them actively write down things from class that they want to remember.”  

The UC Davis students’ presentation was among dozens of presentations and speeches that took place during the student-led conference. Co-hosted by the University of Michigan Medical School and the AMA, the theme of the conference was “learn, connect, empower, impact.”

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Comments

I think it is important for health care professionals to practice what they preach and not just teach. In my personal opinion and experience, patients are more willing to listen and learn if you "look" like you do what you are trying to teach them to learn. As an analogy, I am not going to hire a personal trainer who is not in better shape than I am. It is the application and consistent use of the teachings that make them effective and sustainable.
Yes, we are not very good at addressing lifestyle issues in our patients. It is partly outside of the scope of practice the public views us as providing, even if their diet and exercise decisions have an impact on health. We are not the "gods" of health, making judgments and rulings over our patients that they must comply with. Instead, we provide a service and counsel that our clients can decide to take or discard. Motivational interviewing adds a tool to our box, but our time is often very limited and makes use of any extensive counseling prohibitive. Would nearly every doctor agree that patients should eat healthier diets and exercise regularly? Yes, but so would nearly every patient. The best thing we can do is provide them with some colorful, simple to understand, information that can shed insight on the most transformative tips for better health. Then, we should refer them to a gym and personal trainer or set of fitness classes where they can have the vital community and relational support that really makes these efforts a success. With information and friendship, people have a chance for success. As a medical student, and a human being with similar health needs to the rest of the world, perhaps I could help create an attractive one page flyer to hand out to classmates and residents for our health. If it works, we could share the success with patients too. What can you do?
Yes, we are not very good at addressing lifestyle issues in our patients. It is partly outside of the scope of practice the public views us as providing, even if their diet and exercise decisions have an impact on health. We are not the "gods" of health, making judgments and rulings over our patients that they must comply with. Instead, we provide a service and counsel that our clients can decide to take or discard. Motivational interviewing adds a tool to our box, but our time is often very limited and makes use of any extensive counseling prohibitive. Would nearly every doctor agree that patients should eat healthier diets and exercise regularly? Yes, but so would nearly every patient. The best thing we can do is provide them with some colorful, simple to understand, information that can shed insight on the most transformative tips for better health. Then, we should refer them to a gym and personal trainer or set of fitness classes where they can have the vital community and relational support that really makes these efforts a success. With information and friendship, people have a chance for success. As a medical student, and a human being with similar health needs to the rest of the world, perhaps I could help create an attractive one page flyer to hand out to classmates and residents for our health. If it works, we could share the success with patients too. What can you do?
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Dec 06, 2017
Health information technology had a significant impact on medical education—at both the graduate and undergraduate levels—in 2017.