Culinary Medicine: Teaching the importance of nutrition in medical school

HERSHEY, Pa. — During future physicians’ four years in medical school, they expect to be exposed to many different environments. They become acquainted with the emergency room, operating room, delivery room and every other room in between. Instructors at Penn State College of Medicine hope to help their students become familiar with one more room — the kitchen.

Fourth-year medical students at the college now have an opportunity to participate in a culinary medicine course to learn cooking and nutrition basics, which they can then pass on to patients. Culinary medicine is a new evidence-based field in medicine that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine.

“In the United States, the traditional medical approach has been to focus on treatment rather than prevention of disease and illness,” said Tomi Dreibelbis, Culinary Medicine course co-director, senior director of educational affairs, and instructor of public health sciences. “For the past 100 years, the standard medical school curriculum has required spending only a few days in four years discussing how nutrition affects wellness and the risk of progression of disease. Diet and nutrition will take us either on the path to wellness or on the path to disease.”

Dreibelbis has a background as a public health nutritionist and holds a graduate degree in health education. She was inspired by the culinary medicine program at Tulane University School of Medicine and its teaching kitchen where students are required to take nutrition courses throughout their four years of medical school. She visited Tulane in July 2016 and worked with her counterparts there to bring the program to Penn State. The first class launched in September 2016.

“Dietary intervention can positively impact health outcomes across the lifespan. Optimal nutrition throughout all phases of life, especially for the population groups that are at high risk for health disparities, must be the primary focus of health promotion and disease prevention,” she said.

Nine students have completed the course this semester, which is currently offered as an elective.

The course is held at the Mohler Senior Center, which is located on the edge of the College of Medicine and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center campus. Use of its kitchen adds an additional dynamic to the course, as members of the senior center participate in the course alongside the students.

Learn more about the course in this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated March 08, 2017