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, called preclerkship — underpins their future training and approach to patient care. 

Nutrition has been mostly absent from preclerkship training in Canada and other countries for decades — partly due to the need for students to master a growing body of complex health knowledge. As a result, nutrition now plays an undersized role in patient care at the very time that obesity rates are skyrocketing and malnutrition continues to plague vulnerable populations. 

Researchers, educators and staff in the Lawson Centre are re-introducing 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 is part of a larger renewal of the first two years of medical school, launched in 2016. Medical students now learn about nutrition at several points, early in their training:

  • Lifestyle medicine program. This program comprises the entire tenth week of first year, and includes instruction on active living, exercise, stress management, sleep and other lifestyle factors that affect health.
  • Culinary medicine workshop. All first-year students visit 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 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 incorporates more nutrition knowledge.

Lawson Centre staff are also working to bring more nutrition content into postgraduate medical training (for residents and fellows) and continuing professional development (for established physicians and other health care practitioners).

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