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Thanksgiving, Medical Students, and Food as Medicine


Medical students as cooks? How talking about food can be powerful medicine. This is the 2nd in a series of articles about practical tidbits regarding the alimentary tract.

Every Thanksgiving for at least the past 23 years, medical students, staff and faculty from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have prepared a turkey dinner for those less fortunate in the community. Afterwards, the attendees can have their blood pressure checked and get clothing or food items available through campus collection drives. It is a touching experience for students, faculty, and community volunteers and those they serve.

While experiences like this can foster trust with medical schools and their supporting communities, there are more things cooking around this nation mixing medicine and food (in both figurative and literal ways).

The Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans was the first to hire a licensed chef as an instructor. The curriculum they developed has been studied for its effects on medical students and their community and patients. This innovative approach to preventitive medicine has since been used in 13 other medical schools, with some preventative medicine experts calling for educating to-be medical doctors on salutogenesis (from Latin salus for health, and of course, Greek genesis for origin) like we are taugh pathogenesis.

After all, counseling patients to eat healthy and exercise is like financial planners telling their clients to save money, or lawyers telling their clients to not get sued. But innovations like this are welcome in this obesity epidemic coupled with the unfortunate and bleak state of our health counseling. (A survey found that less than a quarter of physicians feel they can adequately counsel patients on nutrition or exercise, and let's face it--if you aren't comfortable or feel good at doing something, you probably aren't going to do it.)

I, for one, am excited about the possibilities of "culinary medicine" becoming mainstream medical education instead of current basic science only remotely applicible to the most specialized sub-specialists (if at all). After all, my medical school brain was largely fueled by cold cereal, instant noodles, and pizza. I hope the upcoming physicians get a better culinary experience and are better equipped to address the obesity epidemic than my medical education.

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