As a junior at Yale College I met with the dean responsible for pre-medical students to help me make my final decision about whether to attend medical school. “I am fascinated by science, love working with people, and interested in helping people become healthy, but I still am not sure about going to medical school.” The dean simply asked, “Do you want to be a doctor?” I said “yes” and she advised, “Then medical school is the best way to become a doctor.” Her simple and unerring logic compelled me to apply. However, I was so excited to be admitted that I never stopped to read the medical school brochure to find out exactly what I would be studying.
Off I went to the wonderfully intense experience of learning medicine and multiple approaches to treat sickness and alleviate suffering. I anticipated learning about exercise and nutrition. I knew that staying active was something that I personally did for enjoyment, but I received little to no formal education in physical activity. Nutrition seemed like something more important than memorizing the effects of various vitamin deficiencies, but I received limited formal training in helping patients, and even myself, in making better food choices. I did learn definitively that smoking was bad and that it was my responsibility to help my patients quit. The curriculum on stress was perhaps presented as an experiential lesson in how to maintain my health through the rigors of exam blocks and long hours on the wards.
Despite a thorough medical education, as I began practice I realized two things about that education: 1) there was a lack of training in the fundamental skills of providing preventive care, and 2) a lack of training in the broader application of healthcare to help my patients adopt and sustain better health behaviors. To best remedy the educational gap for me and other practicing physicians, I launched large scale continuing medical education programs in lifestyle medicine. However, the goal of changing medical school education to include lifestyle medicine was met with warnings from well-meaning colleagues. “Don’t you know that medical school curricula are carved in stone?” I replied, “Well then, let’s get some chisels.” And, let’s assemble a team of professionals with complementary skills and experience to reform medical education to include diet, exercise, behavior change, and self-care.
Welcome to the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative (LMEd) a national advocacy that provides the essential tools, resources, mentorship, and a supporting community to help evolve medical school education. The LMEd was founded in 2013 by yours truly and Jennifer Trilk, PhD, the first fulltime exercise physiologist in a newly forming U.S. medical school in Greenville, South Carolina. Indeed, rather than working to integrate lifestyle medicine into an existing curriculum, Jennifer integrated exercise and nutrition into the new curriculum. Our third co-director, Dennis Muscato, is a business veteran who understands corporate culture and has vast experience in working in this area. Dennis, in his position with Western University, College of Osteopathic Medicine, provides guidance regarding the strategic alliances supporting his school’s integration of lifestyle medicine. In future issues of this newsletter, Jennifer and Dennis will share their stories and introduction to LMEd.
Together our efforts focus on strategies to promote the adoption of lifestyle medicine through working with deans, supporting medical students, cataloging and providing curricular materials, using testing to increase focus on lifestyle medicine, and instituting supportive policies. Medical educators, deans, and students are uniting to fulfill LMEd’s mission in dozens of medical schools across the country. Our work needs you to take the next step in your medical school. We are here to help and support. Together we can move toward a system that trains physicians who can optimally care for their patient’s, and their own, health. Together we can best assure that medical students learn, and are not missing, the essential elements of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle medicine.