Nutrition in Medical Education

Medical students learn about budget-friendly cooking

Medical school shapes physician practice. The knowledge that medical students gain in the first two years of study — the period before they enter the clinical setting, often called preclerkship — underpins their future training and approach to patient care. 

Nutrition was mostly absent from preclerkship training in Canada and other high-income countries for the last three decades — partly due to the need for students to master a growing body of complex health knowledge. As a result, nutrition played an undersized role in patient care as obesity rates skyrocketed and malnutrition plagued vulnerable populations. 

In 2016, researchers, educators and staff in the Lawson Centre began to expand nutrition in the MD Program at U of T, with an emphasis on student self-care and resilience as well as new learning technologies. This change was part of a larger renewal of the first two years of medical school, called the Foundations Curriculum. Medical students began to learn about nutrition at several points, early in their training:

  • Lifestyle medicine program. This program comprised the entire tenth week of first year, and included instruction on active living, exercise, stress management, sleep and other lifestyle factors that affect health.
  • Culinary medicine workshop. All first-year students visited a supermarket for a store tour and budgeting session with registered dietitians and a cooking class run by trained kitchen staff.
  • Endocrine and metabolism component. In-class learning through this curriculum component focused on the role of diet in disorders such as diabetes and thyroid conditions.
  • Learning objectives throughout preclerkship. Teaching about health and disease in the first and second years of medical school now incorporated more nutrition knowledge.

Lawson Centre staff have also been working to bring more nutrition content into postgraduate medical training for medical residents and fellows, and in continuing professional development for established physicians and other health care practitioners, through the Child Nutrition Digital Series and other efforts.

See what medical students learned about nutrition in the first culinary medicine workshop in 2016: