Caitlin Magee, OMS II, was a college undergrad when she first heard the words “lifestyle medicine” from her new primary care physician. She had mentioned to him her plan to go to medical school.
“He was double board-certified in family medicine and lifestyle medicine, and spoke with me about how he incorporates lifestyle medicine into his primary care practice and how fast the field was growing,” said Magee. “It sounded like it aligned exactly with what I wanted to do in medicine.”
Today, Magee attends Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker, Colorado, and is president of the campus Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group (LMIG), which she founded in partnership with the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM). The student group organizes activities that help students, faculty, and the local community learn about treatment, reversal, and prevention of chronic disease by addressing the root causes with use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention — including a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection.
Interest is on the rise
Magee and her classmates are part of a growing number of future osteopathic physicians getting a head start in the fast-growing field. A study published in April in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine showed that, while interest in lifestyle medicine is rising among both osteopathic and allopathic students, 54% of future DOs were already more familiar with the concept compared to 21% of future MDs. Seven osteopathic medical schools nationally have partnered with ACLM to start LMIGs.
“Lifestyle medicine aligns with osteopathic medicine in our belief that all of the body’s systems are interconnected and, if we can bring the body back into alignment, it has the capability to heal itself,” said Magee, who was recently awarded ACLM’s 2021 Donald A. Pegg Student Leadership Award for her leadership in establishment of the LMIG. “For example, how can we change our diets in a way that allows our bodies to process the nutrients we take in more efficiently? This is a question we can answer using lifestyle medicine.”
At Pacific Northwest University College of Osteopathic Medicine (PNWU-COM), students approached Kathaleen Briggs Early, PhD, RDN, with the idea of starting an LMIG about five years ago. For the first year, the students operated independently as a club before Dr. Briggs Early connected the group with ACLM for official affiliation. ACLM provides toolkits and other resources to students interested in establishing LMIGs.
Student involvement and success
Today, there are about 75 students active in the PNWU-COM LMIG, which received an Outstanding Community Engagement Award at the ACLM Trainees Award Ceremony at LM2020.
“I think students want to take the pillars of lifestyle medicine into their practices,” said Dr. Briggs Early, faculty advisor for the student group. “They know they won’t get much exposure to it as part of their formal medical education and training, so they are taking the initiative to learn about it themselves.”
That’s also why students at Touro College of Medicine New York – Middletown (TouroCOM-Middletown) started an LMIG. The medical school is located in a diverse area of New York and the philosophy of lifestyle medicine “goes hand-in-hand with the values and osteopathic principles that are emphasized in our curriculum,” Simal Ali, OMS II, said. She also recently was awarded ACLM’s 2021 Donald A. Pegg Student Leadership Award.
The TouroCOM-Middletown LMIG is actively working toward collaborating with faith-based institutions, high schools and workplaces to offer opportunities for the Middletown and Greater Hudson Valley community to learn how they can take charge of their health and wellness. Examples of events they are organizing include hosting lifestyle medicine expert speakers and organizing community wellness events, outdoor group exercise opportunities, and visits to area eldercare facilities to provide social engagement and stimulate cognitive health.
“We are health-conscious individuals who enjoy practicing living a balanced lifestyle for ourselves and hope to teach our patients about how to do the same in an evidence-based way,” said Ali.
Making lifestyle changes
As interest in and implementation of lifestyle medicine in education grows, students are having more opportunities to become equipped through the various levels of education and training. ACLM, in coordination with Loma Linda University, launched a lifestyle medicine residency curriculum in July 2018 with four pilot sites. Upon completion of the curriculum, residents qualify for the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine certification exam. There are now 49 sites implementing lifestyle medicine curricula across 82 programs.
“I think more and more people are recognizing that there is no quick fix to chronic disease,” said Dr. Briggs Early. “It takes many small daily actions of choosing to take that walk, eat that salad, and go to bed at a decent time.”
Lifestyle medicine can help current and future health care professionals understand how to best teach their patients how to make these changes in their lives, Dr. Briggs Early notes.