Collaboration yields opportunities for hands-on learning about nutrition and health

Culinary MedicineJune 12, 2018

What physician-in-training wouldn't want to take a break with peers, learn to cook and eat what they prepare as a way to not only improve their own nutrition but that of their future patients?

That logic became the basis of a popular, enrichment week elective in the M.D. program called culinary medicine. The new elective grew out of the passion and expertise of a family physician, dietitian-nutritionist and an M.D. student with backing from the OHSU School of Medicine Alliance and the OHSU Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness.

"Physicians can tell patients to eat healthy and get exercise, but that's often the end of the discussion due to their own lack of understanding of what that means," said Brian Frank, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. "It's not just about nutrition, but also about the practical skills needed to apply that knowledge. If OHSU truly wants to provide transformative care, we must equip students with the knowledge and tools to make radical changes."

Dr. Brian FrankBuilding on interest and success

Dr. Frank and Diane Stadler, Ph.D., R.D.N., L.D., associate professor of medicine, and director of the Graduate Programs in Human Nutrition, OHSU School of Medicine, created an interprofessional culinary medicine elective in 2016-17 offered to all students at OHSU.

Building on the success of that class, Dr. Stadler, who also is associate director of nutrition in the Moore Institute, arranged to meet with the OHSU School of Medicine Alliance. This volunteer group does service projects for the school and was interested in supporting Moore Institute initiatives. Compelling stories from the culinary medicine students convinced the group to fund the development of a course specific to medical students.

"One thing that struck me was when the students explained that many never had the opportunity or the time to learn to cook," said Mary Carr, incoming president of the School of Medicine Alliance. "What a great thing to be able to offer this course that not only teaches them healthful eating but also empowers them to share their knowledge with their patients."

Caroline JolleyM.D. student joins the team

Caroline Jolley, M.D. class of 2020, and a student in the interprofessional culinary medicine class, offered to partner with Drs. Frank and Stadler to tailor the course to medical students.

Before coming to OHSU, Jolley worked in a dementia clinic in Wyoming where they taught cooking classes. She remembers how excited patients were to be in the kitchen. She realized the importance of food in providing a common ground for improving quality of life that cuts across all demographics.

As a medical student, she realized her peers face challenges similar to patients when it comes to eating a nutritious diet: limited time, budget and cooking skills. In addition to understanding these barriers, students also need to know the science of nutrition and its role in health.  

"It's not just about how to talk to patients," said Jolley. "It's about showing them that you walk the talk as well."

Jolley signed on to help tailor the culinary medicine course to medical students as part of her scholarly project required in the YOUR M.D. curriculum. They decided to offer the course as an enrichment week elective in between the preclinical course blocks to make the time commitment manageable and expose as many medical students as possible.

Jolley helped develop the curriculum, along with Drs. Frank and Stadler and course instructor Jennifer Hamilton, R.D., and plans to evaluate changes in the behaviors of her classmates and present her results for her scholarly project.

Dr. Diane StadlerA taste of culinary medicine

The half-day class introduces students to the practical application of healthy eating principles. Each elective covers a different topic, from whole grains and lean proteins, to ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. While not as in-depth as the interprofessional elective course, it gives students a chance to experience culinary medicine, learn some new skills in the kitchen and build curiosity and eagerness to learn about nutrition.

The course is taught at the Stadium Fred Meyer demonstration kitchen in Northwest Portland. In the future, Dr. Frank hopes that OHSU can create a teaching kitchen on campus and that culinary medicine becomes a regular part of all health care provider education.

The funding from the School of Medicine Alliance will allow 84 students, more than half of the M.D. class of 2018, to participate. Interest in the class was so strong that registration for the first class filled within minutes, so they doubled the number of class offerings. The interprofessional elective, which is also very popular, will be offered again this fall.

Jolley is excited: "I am hopeful that having such a large percentage of the class get this exposure to culinary medicine early in their education will create a supportive environment for students, and ultimately physicians, to be informed and energized to talk with their patients about building healthy lifestyles through nutrition."

Pictured above: Dr. Brian Frank, Caroline Jolley, Dr. Diane Stadler