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Comment: Teaching doctors to cook

From the clinic to the kitchen: Alessandro Demaio reckons that cooking classes on the curriculum of medical doctors would be a recipe for a healthier community

The traditional adage in the world of medical education, is to ‘see one, do one, teach one’.

Medicine, at its fundamental core, is a profession best learnt through experience. Best mastered through engaging with patients and observing senior colleagues. This is why we have teaching hospitals. Why we spend more than half of most medical courses in hospitals and not in universities. And why we see so many trainee-doctors every time we go for that checkup.

New adage for a new age

But a recent paper in the prestigious journal JAMA suggests a new adage for doctors in the 21st century. An updated ideology for health-care professionals entering a world in which diabetes, heart disease and obesity are major killers and where over-nutrition is often more common than under-nutrition.

A delicious new recipe for education and health: ‘See One. Taste One. Cook One. Teach One.’

You see, doctors are trained to prescribe medications to bring down their patients’ cholesterol. They’re even lectured on the benefits of exercise for a healthy heart. But at no stage in most medical curricula are medical students taught how to cook, how to approach food in a healthy way, how to maintain a balanced diet or how to prepare a ‘heart-friendly’ snack. Yet the largest health threats facing most communities globally, are those caused and remedied by the quality and quantity of the food we consume.

Prescribing nutrition

We look to doctors as leaders, as role-models and as trusted providers of health – so why not stock their pantries with recipes for healthier living, which in turn they can provide to their patients?

Of course, it is more complicated, and I am not suggesting that chef-doctors are the answer to our obesogenic societies, but it would be a very intelligent step. Almost free to the taxpayer – in sharp contrast to treating the outcome of the obesity epidemic – giving health promoters the skills to cook a balanced meal seems logical.

A ‘missing ingredient’

I admit that the typical medical course is already dense, as with any course at university, but the role of tertiary education is to instill in us the skills to overcome common professional challenges. How can we expect medical professionals, not just doctors, to guide their patients to health (and healthy food is part of this), if they don’t have the skills themselves? If we’re not teaching the teachers some basic recipes for a nutritious and healthy lifestyle – how can we expect them to do the same for their community?

There are good examples from the USA, and the benefits of knowing how to make healthy, affordable food is nothing new to many – see the Kitchen Garden Project and Food Revolution. But as a community investing in the education of doctors, maybe we have the recipe slightly wrong… In addition to anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, could a dash of cookery be the missing ingredient for a healthier society?

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