Learning about healthy foods during a med school lecture is one thing. Spending the day in a teaching kitchen analyzing recipes, preparing and cooking food is another experience altogether, says Stephanie Clark, OMS III.
“It’s a really powerful experience to make the food yourself,” says Clark, who attends the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pomona, California, and visited the teaching kitchen through WesternU/COMP’s lifestyle medicine track. “Knowing things like how much the ingredients cost and how long the meal takes to prepare makes it easier to give recommendations to patients.”
Lifestyle medicine involves advising patients on the benefits of exercise, healthy eating, proper sleep and stress management in order to improve overall health.
By offering a four-year lifestyle medicine track, developed by Louise Muscato, PhD, WesternU/COMP Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon and WesternU/COMP are pioneering instruction in the field. A total of 40 first-, second- and third-year osteopathic medical students are enrolled in the track at each location.
The track’s 60 hours of instruction focus on topics such as nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleep. During the first and second year of the program, students complete 12 lifestyle medicine classes, including a culinary medicine course where they learn how to cook healthful meals and teach others to do the same. Many also attend an optional monthly lecture series on nutrition in medicine.
During third and fourth years, students take part in a month-long lifestyle medicine rotation, help facilitate an education series for local patients and complete a capstone project.
The lifestyle medicine track’s underlying goal, says WesternU/COMP-Northwest family medicine professor Robyn Dreibelbis, DO, is to empower future DOs to improve patient care through discussions of how lifestyle affects health.
“Many of our students go on to practice primary care, but this knowledge base is important for physicians in all specialties,” says Dr. Dreibelbis, who oversees the lecture series on nutrition in medicine. “The power of lifestyle choice is enormous. What we choose to eat, whether we smoke and how we move our bodies are hugely important factors in human health.”
Students in the lifestyle medicine track also learn to avoid taking an all-or-nothing approach in their conversations with patients. By helping patients make positive changes, however small, physicians increase the chance that patients will continue to move toward improved health. “If your patient is eating fast food for every meal, you could encourage them to eat one extra serving of vegetables per day,” Dr. Dreibelbis suggests.
Clark, who earned a master’s in nutrition before entering medical school, is certain the training she’s receiving now will benefit her future patients. “The lifestyle medicine track has really equipped me to educate patients about how daily habits can impact long-term health,” she says.