New curriculum aims to integrate nutrition into medical education

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After being given responsibility for the undergraduate nutrition program for medical students in 2018, the AfN formed the Interprofessional Working Group for Medical Education (AfN IPG) representing professionals in medicine, nutrition and dietetics. These representatives worked together to form this new curriculum for physicians.

The program builds knowledge in eight critical thematic areas of nutrition: nutrition and hydration in health and disease, nutritional screening and assessment, effect of nutritional status on disease, malnutrition (undernutrition), malnutrition (obesity and metabolic syndrome), specific dietary needs, hydration and nutrition in health promotion and disease prevention.

Write about the curriculum in ‘BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health’​, the association states: “Given the current extraordinary prevalence of diet-related chronic disease in the UK and the critical role nutrition plays in the treatment and rehabilitation of disease, it is now imperative that the fundamental principles of nutrition are integrated into the basic training of doctors and evaluated in the new MP in 2024.

“Physicians do not need to become nutritionists or dieticians, but must be equipped to confidently treat malnutrition in all its forms. Physicians, who will see thousands of patients throughout their careers, play a key role in helping to identify, treat and monitor nutrition-related conditions, as well as in the delivery of preventative medications.

“Future physicians should therefore be able to discuss factors such as achieving a healthy weight in an informed and sensitive manner, as well as having the knowledge to refer patients for additional nutritional support when needed. There is now a clear opportunity for medical schools to distinguish themselves based on the integration of nutrition practice into holistic health care training to adequately prepare graduates with knowledge and skills in nutrition care, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care.

And after?

The association realizes that once teaching and materials have been incorporated into curricula, a formal and rigorous assessment of the content taught must be developed.

“This will require trained nutrition teachers to be involved in the development of these assessments,” the paper says, “which are ultimately needed to provide authentic assessment and produce competent physicians to use nutrition as a therapeutic option upon graduation and throughout their careers.”

The document also notes the lack of professional role models trained in nutrition, which could create a barrier to adequate nutrition education in medical schools.

Making better use of allied health professionals, such as registered nutritionists (ANutr/RNutr), registered dietitians (RD), and nutrition-trained nurses and pharmacists in multidisciplinary teams during clinical and community training provides the opportunity to improve at both the interprofessional skills as well as the nutritional knowledge of future doctors”, he declares.

Background

There are many reports of insufficient nutrition education during medical training in the UK and around the world. The need to equip the next generation of doctors with better nutritional knowledge has already been documented by NutraIngredients​.

Nutritank, a student-run food, nutrition and lifestyle medicine clearing house, previously surveyed 244 medical students and found that 99% of respondents believed nutrition played a role in maintenance of good health, 97.5% thought it played a role in the development of the disease, 94.6% thought it played a role in the management of the disease and 88% believed that patients would expect them to have an understanding of nutrition as a physician.

A significant 91% said they would like to receive more nutrition education as part of their medical training.

The student hub also surveyed 142 young doctors and found that 92% of participants thought patients expected them to have an understanding of nutrition as a doctor, but only 26% felt comfortable to discuss nutrition.

Survey and assessment data combined suggests that most UK medical students and doctors feel their nutrition training was inadequate, with more than 70% saying they could identify less than two hours during their academic and clinical training.

Source: BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health

Jones G, Macaninch E, Mellor D, et al

“Putting Nutrition Education on the Table: Developing a Curriculum to Meet the Needs of Future Physicians”

doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2022-000510

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