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Out of the Classroom and Into the Kitchen

Posted on August 22, 2018
Culinary Medicine Lab

A new initiative at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine is taking medical students from the classroom to the kitchen. During the 2017-18 academic year, optional Culinary Medicine Labs were offered to undergraduate medical students with an interest in learning more about nutrition.

“Research shows that the greatest predictor of patient nutrition counselling by physicians is the physician’s own perceptions of nutrition and eating habits,” says Lee Rysdale, Registered Dietitian (RD), Associate Professor in the Clinical Sciences Division and Practice Education Research and Evaluation Lead in the Health Sciences and Interprofessional Education Unit at NOSM. “By supporting medical students and teaching these skills early on, we can foster healthy lifestyle habits which can be translated into physician practice and ultimately increase patient awareness of nutrition and healthy eating,” she says.

Some Canadian medical schools have implemented voluntary or brief amounts of nutrition education into the undergraduate curriculum but there are currently no nutrition-related curriculum guidelines or pertinent objectives in the Medical Council of Canada licensing exam, according to Rysdale. “Diet is the number one risk factor for chronic diseases and plays a huge role in the prevention and management of these diseases,” she says.

“The Culinary Medicine Labs are a way to educate our future health-care providers about food and nutrition so they’re able to competently and confidently approach and address these health issues,” she says. Rysdale organized the Culinary Medicine Labs with the help of fellow RD faculty and current interns with the Northern Ontario Dietetic Internship Program (NODIP) at NOSM. The four labs were held in teaching kitchens at local high schools in Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Each lab focused on a specific theme: fad diets, weight stigma, and nutrition and the art of eating. Registered dietitians and the dietetic interns presented a holistic approach to culinary medicine, and in each session the medical students were taught a combination of nutrition education, food skills and preparation, as well as counselling skills.

Students learned to appraise dietary patterns to determine whether they promote the “diet” mentality or flexible, individualized eating; to compare and contrast weight-focused versus weight neutral approaches to care; and to understand how food can help with the prevention and management of chronic conditions. “Food and nutrition and diet are all part of lifestyle, and if physicians don’t understand these lifestyle factors that influence chronic diseases, they can only help their patients to a certain extent,” says Nicole Selman, one of NOSM’s dietetic interns who assisted with the labs. Another purpose of the labs was to educate medical students about the roles of registered dietitians.

“Not only do we want to improve their nutrition competence, we also want them to better understand the roles of registered dietitians in health care, as well as who to refer a patient to when it comes to nutrition and health,” says Rysdale. By bringing together medical students and dietetic interns, the labs also present an opportunity for interprofessional learning between two groups here at NOSM. “It can be somewhat intimidating at first, because they’re medical students, but it was a great opportunity for us to show that while we both have our own unique skill set, we do a better job for patients if we work together as a team,” says Selman.

Read more stories like this in the latest issue of Northern Passages.