Program Helps Integrate Nutrition Into Health Care Practice

August 18, 2015

Health care professionals are heading back to school at Columbia University Medical Center to add a new tool to their kit: nutrition counseling. The medical nutrition program at Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition, now in its fourth year, is accepting applicants through Sept. 10 for its program starting in September.

During one weekend each month, participants in the year-long program convene to learn how to better integrate nutrition into their practices. The program, which is the only one of its kind in the United States, trains a variety of health professionals to use behavior counseling approaches. The curriculum has strong underpinnings of biochemistry and clinical nutrition and also offers a popular cooking component during which the participants learn basic cooking skills and healthy, culturally appropriate recipes.

Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics & gynecology and senior associate dean for diversity and cultural affairs at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, is pursuing her master’s degree in nutrition through the medical nutrition program. “I wish this opportunity existed 20 years ago," says Dr. Hutchinson. "I think it would have made me a much better OB/GYN.”

The skill set taught in the program is increasingly recognized for its importance, as reflected by several national initiatives: The Affordable Care Act of 2010 and the 2013 reclassification of obesity as a disease means that health care professionals can be reimbursed for the treatment of obesity in a primary care setting and must be better prepared to guide their patients to better nutrition and physical activity habits.

The Education and Training for Health Act of 2015 (EAT), now under review in Congress, would ensure that federally employed physicians and nurse practitioners receive annual, continuing nutrition education coursework. This bill would allow health care providers, such as dentists, physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, to counsel patients on the link between diet and life-threatening diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Applications are being accepted for September 2015; Columbia University faculty can use their tuition benefits.

For more information, contact associate director Mary DiGiorgi, PhD, at md180@cumc.columbia.edu or visit the Institute of Human Nutrition's website.