Background: United States public health goals call for increased physician counseling about diet and exercise, but many medical schools lack adequate curriculum on these topics. At Harvard Medical School, second-year students take a preventive medicine and nutrition (PMN) course. This study evaluated the impact of this innovative curriculum on students' confidence about addressing patients' diet and exercise patterns and on their own health habits.
Methods: Students enrolled in the 2003 PMN course (N =137) completed a confidential 43-item written survey before and after the course. Surveys were completed by 134 students (98%) and 118 students (86%), respectively. The survey assessed students' diet and exercise habits and students' confidence in their ability to address diet and exercise with patients and family members.
Results: Students' confidence in their ability to assess and counsel about diet and exercise significantly improved after the course (all p <0.001). The course was also associated with a decrease in students' self-reported consumption of saturated fat (p =0.002) and trans fatty acids (p <0.001). Following the course, 72% of students perceived an improvement in their diet but only 18% perceived an improvement in exercise habits.
Conclusions: An innovative PMN course improved medical students' confidence in diet and exercise counseling and perceived dietary habits. Improving these mediators of physician counseling in medical students may translate into changes in their practice patterns.