Health Professionals Study, Cook Their Way to Being Better Nutrition Counselors

August 6, 2014

Over the past year, 21 physicians, nurses, and other health professionals spent one weekend a month—and completed online coursework between weekends—to learn how to integrate nutrition into their work with patients. They were participants in the Medical Nutrition Program for Health Professionals, a certification program offered by Columbia’s Institute of Human Nutrition.

The second class of students finished the program in July. Many of the 21 who received certificates of professional achievement in medical nutrition will go on to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition, which requires additional coursework and a guided thesis project.

The program’s weekend classes include coursework on nutrition biochemistry, growth, development and aging, medical nutrition therapy, clinical nutrition, and behavioral counseling techniques. In addition to lectures and research discussions, students participate in counseling exercises that help them apply evidence-based nutrition guidelines to their practices as they guide their patients toward healthy behavior changes.

One of the most popular features of the weekend session is the cooking workshop. “The cooking workshop not only gave students the opportunity to bond with their classmates, it also taught them how to cook with good nutrition in mind so they can better counsel their patients. Students have said that cooking with classmates changed the way they eat,” says Mary DiGiorgi, PhD, assistant professor of human nutrition (in surgery) and associate director of the medical nutrition program.

Students also commended the behavioral counseling approaches, including motivational interviewing and harm reduction, as useful tools to help them start nutrition conversations with patients.

The certification program is directed by Sharon Akabas, PhD, associate director of education initiatives in the Institute of Human Nutrition and associate professor of nutrition (in pediatrics).

Another class begins the certification program this fall. Deadline for applying is Aug. 15. More information about the program can be found here or by sending email to Claire Zimmeck at