Division of Nutrition

Nutrition Education at Harvard Medical School

With several major modifications in the Harvard Medical School (HMS) curriculum over the last decade, the most recent in 2015, formal instruction in clinical nutrition has changed from a standalone course during the second year of medical school to an integrated theme throughout the four-year curriculum. More than 25 Division of Nutrition (DON) faculty have actively participated as directors and tutors for the clinical nutrition course and now participate in the development of nutrition educational materials used by other courses in the curriculum.

Nutrition Curriculum Committee

A Nutrition Curriculum Committee has been established to develop a nutrition curriculum for medical students during each year of the medical school experience. Meetings are held quarterly and agenda focuses on current educational projects within HMS as well as nationally. With the change in the curriculum in 2015, this committee has worked with established courses and clinical rotation directors, creating novel methods to teach nutrition – for example, doctor-patient role-playing, case-based learning, flipped classroom, etc. The committee has provided both educators and materials that are currently used in the four-year curriculum.

Members of the committee are varied in their research and clinical interests and represent all of the major HMS teaching hospitals. Areas of interest include gastroenterology, cardiology, obesity medicine, primary care medicine, lifestyle medicine, complementary and alternative medicine, psychiatry, dietetics, endocrinology, surgery and anesthesiology and critical care medicine.

Nutrition Academic Award (NAA)

In 2000, Drs. Francine Welty, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and Allan Walker, Massachusetts General Hospital, successfully competed for a Nutrition Academic Award from NIDDK to establish a strong nutrition curriculum at HMS. This award is one of twenty such NIH-supported awards to medical schools throughout the United States to enhance undergraduate medical education in nutrition. The Award ended in 2007.

See the NAA website for more details.

Several members of the DON actively participate in nutrition education reform at the national level. Current projects include develop a core set of competencies in nutrition in both undergraduate and post-graduate medical education, increasing the exposure of nutrition and obesity on the medical licensing examinations (USMLE) at the National Board of Medical Examiners, development of competencies in lifestyle medicine and the development of competencies in obesity medicine in undergraduate medical education as well as interprofessional education.

Nutrition in the HMS Curriculum

Pre-clinical "Pathways" Curriculum - Years I and II

Given the recent change in curriculum, the time and duration of nutrition education has been altered to fit the new system-based learning modules. However, core nutrition principles are covered, specifically in 3 modules: Practice of Medicine, Homeostasis I and Homeostasis II. Focus in other areas in the preclinical curriculum (for example Professional development week) is soon to be established.

Topics include the impact of nutrient deficiencies on anemia and other diseases, role of nutrition in chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis celiac disease, obesity, etc), enteral and parenteral nutrition, eating disorders, bariatric surgery, and common diets (e.g. Mediterranean diet).

Clinical Curriculum - Years lll and IV

Typically, the state of nutrition education in the clinical years is reduced in medical school. At HMS, the New "Pathway" Curriculum (starting AY17) provides an opportunity for the DON to incorporate translational nutrition education to replace the past senior selectives, electives and advanced biomedical science courses in nutrition. These "selectives" will be available to third and fourth year medical students wishing to obtain an in-depth experience in specific nutritional problems. Potential topics inlcude obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lifestyle medicine, culinary medicine, critical care and hospital nutrition. Case studies, case seminars and lectures have typically accounted most of the delivery of nutrition education however novel teaching methods ie culinary medicine and nutrition have been proposed.

A current Pathways Curricular Map is available here.

Clinical Nutrition

The variety of interests and backgrounds in nutrition is represented by DON faculty in the major HMS teaching hospitals during clinical rotations. Currently, with the change in the HMS curriculum, most of clinical nutrition education occurs in clinical rotations in the inpatient and outpatient setting. DON faculty precept medical students and post graduate trainees in the following fields (please note not all areas are represented).

  • Cardiology: Dr. Francine Welty, Department of Medicine, Beth-Israel Deaconess Medical Center(BIDMC).
  • Obesity: Dr. Scott Butsch, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Weight Center,.
  • Complementary Alternative Medicine: Dr. Darshan Mehta, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, MGH, Department of Medicine
  • Lifestyle Medicine: Dr. Marie-France Hivert, MGH, Dept of Population Health; Dr. Beth Frates, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Gastroenterology: Dr. Allan Walker, Department of Pediatrics, MGH. Dr. Clifford Lo, Dr. Chris Duggan, and Dr. Susan Huh, Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Children's Hospital of Boston. A sample rotation schedule for Boston Children's Hospital is available here.
  • Primary Care Medicine: Dr. Helen Delichatsios, former director of nutrition of education in the DON, has focused on nutrition and culinary medicine, Department of Medicine, MGH
  • Critical Care Medicine: Dr Bruce Bistrian

Harvard College Undergraduate

Dr. Clifford Lo and Dr. Chris Duggan teach a Nutrition and Global Health course during the spring semester at Harvard College.

Complete information on this course, including class schedule, requirements, and reading lists, is available here.

A list of the 2017 lecture series is available here.

Educational Courses and Events

Blackburn Course in Obesity Medicine

First established in the late 1980s as the International Practice for the Treatment and Prevention of Obesity, the Blackburn course has been the premier CME course in obesity medicine. Named after the late George Blackburn MD PhD, this course has attracted physicians, scientists and other health care providers to Boston to learn about the disease of obesity. Lee Kaplan, MD PhD is the course director. Scott Butsch, MD MSc is one of the course co-directors.

Agenda and registration information for the June, 2017 course is available here.

Northeast Nutrition Education Summit

First established in 2006, the Nutrition Education Summit has brought regional nutrition educators in undergraduate medical schools together to share ideas and education tools to best integrate nutrition in undergraduate medical education. Two subsequent Summits have been held in 2011 and 2016. Participating medical schools include University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Harvard, Tufts, University of Vermont, Brown and Dartmouth. Directors of the Summit are Allan Walker MD and W. Scott Butsch, MD MSc.

In 2016, the Summit goals focused on undergraduate curriculum development and the development of core nutrition competencies.

Agenda and information about the September 2016 Northeast Nutrition Education Summit are available here.

Nutrition Education Working Group

A group of concerned educators that include faculty from the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Law School, and the nonprofit Gaples Institute meet regularly at the Harvard School of Public Health to discuss national strategies for enhancing nutrition education in all levels of medical training. Ongoing initiatives are focused on medical school nutrition curriculum. accreditation standards for post-graduate medical education, and nutrition content in medical specialty certification exams. Further information is available here.

Members include:

Allan Walker. M.D.
Walter Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H
Stephen Devries, M.D.
Howard Koh, MD
David Eisenberg, MD
Scott Butsch. M.D.
Marie-France Hivcrt. M.D.,M.Sc.
Bruce Bistrian. M.D.,Ph.D.
Allan Geller, MPH, RN.
Emily Oken, M.D.,MPH
Emily Broad Leib, J.D.
Christopher Murray (HMS student)

For more information, contact Dr. Stephen Devries: sdevries@gaplesinstitute.org