The amount of nutrition education that medical students receive is adequate, according to a study published in the journal Academic Medicine.
In 1985, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report indicating the inadequacy of nutrition education in medical schools. The aim of the current study was to assess how well medical schools have progressed in teaching medical students about nutrition over the past 25 years. Researchers also wanted to assess if most schools meet the 25 hours of nutrition education recommended by the landmark report.
Since 1995, the Nutrition in Medicine (NIM) Project at the University of North Carolina has offered a free, interactive comprehensive nutrition course for medical students. Feedback regarding course work is collected and the results can be compared over time.
Feedback data from 2008 – 2009 was collected and compared to results obtained in 2004. Questions relating to the type and total hours of nutrition education were asked of instructors at 127 of the 130 U.S. accredited medical schools. Surveys were returned by 109 schools or 86 percent.
Of the schools reporting, 94 percent indicated that nutrition education was required. These medical schools provided on average 19.6 hours of required nutrition teaching (ranging from 0 to 70 contact hours). This compared to 20.4 hours in 2000-2001.
In 2008-2009, one quarter of schools required a nutrition course compared with over a third in 2000-2001. Just 20 percent of instruction is taught in dedicated nutrition courses. The bulk of nutrition education is provided through other courses such as physiology, pathology, biochemistry, integrated curriculum or clinical practice.
In the current survey, less than a third of medical schools (27%) required the minimum of 25 hours recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 1985. This represents a drop from 2000-2001 (32%).
Most of the contact hours occurred during a medical student’s first two years of schooling. Medical students may be better served to receive this training during the latter part of medical school when their nutrition knowledge can be integrated with clinical treatment.
The vast majority of instructors (79%) indicated that their medical students needed additional education regarding nutrition.
Medical students seem to agree with their instructors. In a 2005 survey, 51% of all U.S. medical students reported that the time devoted to nutrition education was inadequate.
The study authors concluded, “nutrition education continues to be very limited in most medical schools, a situation that casts doubt on the readiness of future physicians to effectively counsel their patients about appropriate nutrition.”
The Bottom Line
We are admonished to speak with our doctor before taking a nutritional supplement. But, according to the latest study, your physician may not be able to offer you much guidance. With increased pressure on doctors to manage their practice, keep up with their specialty in an environment of increasing costs, this may not improve any time soon.
At The Wellness Center, we’ve always advocated that patients take an active role in their health. Part of this responsibility involves becoming better educated about nutrition and nutritional supplements. The good news is that nutrition is not difficult to learn. And, with resources like our Wellness Blog, we can help build your knowledge base.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.