Why nutrition in medical education?

Embedding Nutrition Into Medical Education In Australia

Medical graduates need to know about nutrition - but why?

Patients listen to doctors

  • Nutrition is vital to the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease.  Inappropriate nutritional management contributes to the development of disease and disease progression to complications, which often require longer hospitalisation periods and lead to increased health care costs.  Both over nutrition (e.g. excess energy intake, excess salt, excess saturated fat) and under nutrition (e.g. inadequate energy, protein, vitamins and minerals) are recognised problems for a significant number of the population.  Doctors generally see patients earlier than dietitians, and are often the first point of call and sometimes the only point of call in remote areas; if doctors are well equipped with nutritional skills, particularly the assessment of nutritional risk, they could prevent the development of many diseases, improving health, longevity and quality of life.

Potential Impact of medical graduates with nutritional competencies

  • Successful integration of nutrition competency into entry-level medical courses will result in graduates who are better prepared for working in multi-disciplinary health care teams and have appropriate skills to assist the population to adopt healthier lifestyles. The increase in nutrition competency in medical graduates will raise the profile and recognition of the fundamental importance of nutrition in medical practice in improving the health and well- being of the general community.

Current medical graduates are not competent in nutrition

  • The Accreditation Standards for Medical Courses (ASMC) in Australia state that medical practitioners need to have appropriate knowledge and skills in identifying nutritional issues for patients to prevent and treat common chronic disease (Australian Medical Council 2012). However, doctors in Australia are ill equipped to identify and appropriately manage nutritional issues of patients. The most common cause for insufficient nutritional practice is lack of nutritional knowledge (Mowe et al 2008/Truswell and Blom 2003).
  • The importance of nutrition in the medical curriculum has been widely recognised overseas, but in Australia there is resistance to the implementation of a comprehensive nutrition curriculum into already crammed curricula. In 2010/11 after interviewing key staff of all 18 Australian medical courses, we found no consistent integration of nutrition knowledge and skills, and the assessment of nutrition knowledge and skills varied significantly between universities (Nowson et al 2010).

Progress

  • Since 2010, Deakin University has been developing initiatives to support the integration of nutrition into medical education. In 2013, under the leadership of Professor Caryl Nowson, Deakin University was awarded a 2-year Australian government national teaching award project funding by the Office for Learning and Teaching (2013-2015). This project has brought together four key universities responsible for delivering entry level medical training: Deakin University, University of Queensland, University of Tasmania and Monash University partnered with Dietitians Association of Australia. 
  • This innovative project is developing a web-based nutrition competency implementation toolkit (WNCIT) for entry-level medical courses.  The aim of this tool is to provide medical schools with the tools and resources to enable staff to effectively embed nutrition into the medical curriculum.

References

  • Australian Medical Council, Assessment and Accreditation of Medical Schools: Standards and Procedures,, A.M.C. Ltd, Editor. 200: Kingston ACT.
  • Mowe, M., et al., Insufficient nutritional knowledge among health care workers? Clin Nutr, 2008. 27(2): p. 196-202.
  • Truswell S, H.G., Blom J, Nutrition guidance by family doctors in a changing world: problems, opportunities, and future possibilities. American Journal Clinical Nutrition, 2003. 77 (Supplement): p. 1089S-1092S.
  • Nowson, C.A., M. Roshier-Taks, and B. Crotty, Nutrition competencies for the prevention and treatment of disease in Australian medical courses. Medical Journal of Australia, 2010; 6;197(3):147.

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