Food for thought: What future doctors are learning about nutrition Food for thought: What future doctors are learning about nutrition
If you type the phrase “What do doctors know about nutrition?” into an Internet search engine, the most common result will be “not much.”... Food for thought: What future doctors are learning about nutrition
The Athens medical students are taught to consider diet in the context of income and access to medical advice

The Athens medical students are taught to consider diet in the context of income and access to medical advice

If you type the phrase “What do doctors know about nutrition?” into an Internet search engine, the most common result will be “not much.”

Some links will open on articles claiming that busy doctors have no time for diet advice during brief office visits. Other will lead to authors who chastise medical educators for drilling students on neurology at the expense of nutrition.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends that medical students get at least 25 hours of instruction about nutrition. Even though this advice comes from a highly respected group, the fact is that only 30 U.S. medical schools — roughly 25 percent of the national total — actually follow it.

At the new medical campus in Athens, Dean Barbara Schuster’s faculty has chosen a different route from what is supposed to be the norm on nutritional instruction. It’s not focused on devoting hours to formal nutrition courses.

She says the “case-based” approach used at Georgia Regents University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership (GRU-UGA) teaches students how to build nutritional considerations into treatment plans for their patients.

YouTube Preview ImageDr. Schuster freely acknowledges that the school offers no freestanding courses on nutrition, but this does not trouble her. She resists the idea that nutrition is something to be taught in isolation.

Information about what constitutes healthy or unhealthy eating, and how nutrients can promote health and healing, is abundant in the school’s curriculum, she says. It’s incorporated into lectures, discussions and problem-solving exercises.

“We integrate all the information within our case-based structure,” Schuster said. “Elements of nutrition really are added across the curriculum into the cases.”

During a biochemistry learning module, for example, students might be required to examine a runner’s metabolism.  They would analyze the athlete’s energy needs and consider how different types and quantities of foods could meets those needs. They’d work out how foods are transformed into energy, calculating how many calories the runner needs based on his or her body weight.

A practical approach to obesity

Knowledge about nutrition becomes even more important in the third year of medical schools, when students begin clinical rotations that take them into hospitals and doctors’ offices.

A student on a surgical track may need to look at the food intake of a patient recovering from an operation, with the goal of restoring normal metabolism as soon as possible. Those focusing on family medicine may see patients who have been obese for years, and the medical student may wrestle with the challenge of providing effective counseling in an office setting.

More than 78 million Americans face the life-threatening problem of obesity, and the rates are highest in the South.

Schuster’s philosophy, of course, is not to look at the problem in isolation.

What families choose to eat often depends on what they can afford. The Athens medical students are taught to consider diet in the context of a patient’s income and access to medical advice, two key factors in obesity. The students learn to take all these factors into consideration when calculating treatment plans for temporary illness, injury or chronic disease.

“We really try to intermingle aspects of poverty and a lack of medical care into the curriculum as well,” said Shuster. This is important because students learn to understand how complex a person’s overall well-being really is.


When researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined trends in nutrition education at U.S. medical schools, they found that the number of hours usually falls short of the National Academy of Sciences recommendation. And the number of hours is actually dropping.

But hour totals are not necessarily an indication of how well the subject is being taught. In Athens, for instance, the case-based learning methods of the Medical Partnership are an “excellent way to integrate nutrition into medical education,” according to Dr. Mary Ann Johnson, a foods and nutrition professor at UGA and a national spokewoman for the American Society for Nutrition.

Johnson believes national guidelines can encourage medical schools to integrate nutrition education into their teaching, and she says technology is also changing the landscape as doctors use mobile devices to supplement their own memories.

“Health professionals should know where to access nutrition education and advocacy resources and should use innovative approaches, including online resources and case-based approaches to enhance learning,” she says.

Johnson believes that integrating learning about food, diet and nutrition into standard medical instruction is more important than setting aside a certain number of hours for nutrition classes.

This is what Schuster hopes that graduates of the GRU-UGA Medical Partnership will remember a decade from now, when they have their own patients to care for.

“Students may not have taken courses on food, but we’ve put all those areas of nutrition in throughout the curriculum just like everything else, so it’s not separate,” she says.


Katie Ball is a medical journalist based in Athens.  Recently earning her graduate degree in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia, her writing interests include food and nutrition, health policy, and medical technology. 

Sign up for our free email alerts and follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @gahealthnews.
Help us fulfill our nonprofit mission with a tax-deductible donation!

Katie Ball

  • wjabbe

    The late Frederick R. Klenner M. D. was a top biology student from Pennsylvania who earned his M.D. degree from Duke University. He proved that high dose Vitamin C, administered mainly intraveniously, cured all childhood viral diseases up to and including polio before 1949. He gave his own kids measles and cured them with high dose Vitamin C. All this is published in many articles, yet this information is obstructed, lied about and stonewalled by the corrupt medical establishment. How many professors up to and including Barbara Shuster know this information and impart it to the students? Have any of them read “The Origin of the 41 year STonewall of Vitamin C” by Robert Landwehr published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 1991? All the criminal FDA approves is a trivial 60 mgm per day to prevent scurvy… This method is safe, effective, simple, cheap and easy and provides an excellent alternative when patients have not been vaccinated for whatever reason Ignorance and violations of the scientific method by so called experts is not a pretty thing to observe is it? The corrupt members of the FDA should all be sitting in a jail cell for scientific misconduct, fraud, medical quackery and crimes against humanity. The dismal failure of the medical officials to acknowledge the significance of high dose Vitamin C in the prevention and cure of human disease is a national disgrace and obscenity. Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D., Physics

  • wjabbe

    A seminal experiment was performed in 1969, two years before the so called war on cancer was approved, whose lead author was a genius level biochemist Dean Burk, Ph.D. which proved that high dose Vitamin C killed cancer cells without harming normal cells! This information has also be obstructed and ignored by the corrupt medical establishment. Even the mechanism is known: The Vitamin C is pulled into the cells via the anerobic glycolic metabolism of all cancer patients, forms hydrogen peroxide, and kills the cells without harming normal cells. Otto Warburg proved that all cancer cells metabolize by anerobic glycolysis or fermentation. How many of Otto Warburg’s papers have these students or even their professors read or Ms. Shuster read? The answer is likely zero. Ignorance is bliss. But these doctors will allow plenty of time for their daily lesson in pill therapy from the corrupt and prejudiced drug company representative to brainwash these virtual robots in pill therapy.

  • wjabbe

    I wonder how many of the new medical students have heard the name of the late genius level scientist and medical doctor Otto H. Warburg, M.D., Ph.D. (1883-1970)? Dr. Warburg has been described as the greatest biochemist of the twentieth century. He was nominated for three different Nobel Prizes in medicine in three different areas of work although only one was actually awarded in 1931 for the cell respiration work. He was nominated in 1926 for the first cancer prize but unfortunately it was awarded to Fibiger whose work was shown to be wrong. Warburg published in about 1923, the results of experiments and facts on rats that cancer is caused by oxygen deficiency to living cells over a long period of time or respiratory impairment or the wrong energy supply. All cancer cells metabolize mainly by anerobic glycolysis or fermentation. It took roughly 40 more years to prove this for humans at about the 1955-1965 period almost the same time as the speculations regarding genetics blinded everyone. We have not had almost 50 years to dismal failure in genetics research on cancer with between $100 billion and $1 trillion squandered by the corrupt cancer generals, but about one person every minute dies either from cancer, treatment or both, usually treatment but falsely reported as from cancer. All approved cancer treatments are life threatening and no alternative treatments have been approved while many have even been deliberately obstructed by the criminal cancer generals like Laetrile and hydrazine sulfate. The cancer generals obviously do not know what they are doing; the mutated genes in tumor tissue are the result, not the cause of cancer. Otto Warburg proved the cause based on experiments and facts, not speculations. The cancer generals hated his guts and are determined to deny him his place as the scientist who discovered the prime cause of cancer. All other secondary causes like radiation chemicals, etc. merge into this prime cause. See “The Hidden Story of Cancer” by Brian Peskin, Pinnacle Press, Houston, 2006. The cancer generals should all be prosecuted for scientific misconduct, fraud, medical quackery and crimes against humanity. I wonder how may of Otto Warburg’s papers any of the so called professors at the UGA Health Sciences Campus or their students have read? Answer, likely zero. Ignorance is bliss. This is a shameful disgrace of an institution
    Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D., Physics

  • Janet McMahan

    My Son Ben died April 8, 2014. We found Arsenic & Lead in our Deep Well Water after Ben, my 2 dogs & I developed Cancer.. We developed Cancer during the same time as the 4 small Children in my Facebook picture. These 4 Children were diagnosed within 9 months 10 days of each other & live 7 miles North of our home. Please add “Importance of Testing Drinking Water” to Medical School Curriculum as well.. Georgia has Arsenic, Lead, Radon & Uranium in much of it’s Drinking Water. Physicians should ask their patients to Test their Water as well as Buy Proper Water Filters. Dr Geller of CDC recommends 24 hour Urine Screen for Arsenic & other metals. High Dose IV Vitamin C & Good Nutrition helped Ben live much longer than the couple of months that his Doctors said he would live…

  • FRE000

    When recommending dietary changes, they should also consider the time required to prepare meals. If they recommend diets that require excessive meal preparation time, many of us will not stick to it.

    There should be dietary recommendations that require very little meal preparation time yet are nutritionally sound.

Help us pursue our nonprofit mission with a tax-deductible donation.

Credit Cards


Donate Icon