Medical students in the United Kingdom are sending a startling message to universities across the country: “We need more education on nutrition.” A new review from BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme has found that a large number of third-year medical students studying at the prestigious Bristol University believe that they are not receiving enough education on nutrition to adequately empower their future patients to take their dietary health into their own hands. This alarming report highlights a massive failure of the medical education system, as nutrition is a cornerstone of health.
A lack of learning
When a patient enters their doctor’s office, he or she usually assumes that they will be speaking with someone who is an expert on all areas of health. Unfortunately, this may not be true, at least when it comes to medical students who are trained in the United Kingdom. After interviewing a number of third-year medical students, BBC presenter Shelia Dillon found that student confidence when it comes to advising on nutrition is exceedingly low.
Ally Jaffee, a senior striving to earn her MD at Bristol Medical School, confessed that when it comes to the core curriculum, nutrition almost seems like an afterthought. “We’re taught about 10 to 24 hours over five to six years in medical school on nutrition,” the soon-to-be physician told BBC. This means that newly trained doctors may be functioning off an incomplete picture of nutritional health, and may be unaware of how special diets can be used to prevent and treat illnesses.
Nutritank looks to fill the gap
In order to patch this hole in education, medical students are taking matters into their own hands. Nutritank is an online organization run for and by students. The founders of Nutritank hope to spread awareness of the importance of nutrition education to medical students across the United Kingdom. Since its inception, the organization has since expanded to “15 other student-led university groups across the UK.”1 Such rapid growth should be seen as a message to university administrators: medical students are not getting the information they need on nutrition in the classroom.
Why nutrition education is important
This new BBC review should alarm everyone from top university professors to the common man and woman. Doctors who do not fully understand the importance that nutrition plays when it comes to losing weight or preventing illness may be quicker to overprescribe medication for simple symptoms that can be more thoroughly improved with dietary changes. One common example is the over-prescription of statins to treat cholesterol issues–many of which can be corrected by examining nutritional patterns and incorporating more exercise into the daily life of patients.2
The BBC’s report has spurned the General Medical Council (the UK regulatory body that helps guide medical schools curricula) to reexamine its position on nutritional education and formulate a plan to help doctors in training improve their understanding of how diet affects health. Only time will tell how or when these urgent changes will be made–but there is hope for the future of medicine.
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