Background: Lifestyle factors are major determinants for health and safety. Although many graduates lack interviewing and observational skills for prevention and student lifestyle often deteriorates during training, few medical schools teach comprehensive assessment of lifestyle, particularly in the context of the home environment.
Aims: A lifestyle curriculum was developed to teach basic causality and provide practical experience in assessing nutrition, exercise, safety, tobacco addiction, and food hygiene, together with generic skills in history taking, on-site observation, researching and presenting.
Methods: Lifestyle has been integrated into the first-year curriculum, evaluated, and improved at the United Arab Emirates University since 2001. After an introduction to determinants of health, students conduct a home interview and observational survey for family residential and traffic safety, smoking, and food hygiene. For nutrition and exercise, students assess personal lifestyle. Generic skills are developed in the context of lifestyle. Evaluations were by faculty and students, including assessed impact on knowledge, skills, and personal lifestyle. The lifestyle curriculum was compared with other countries by detailed search.
Results: Detailed evaluation found strong agreement/agreement among students that knowledge had improved on: counselling of patients and families 97%, promoting healthy lifestyles 100%; interviewing 88%; history taking 84%; using research for medical practice 89%; and importance of prevention 96%. Eighty six percent were stimulated to think in new ways about health. Improved personal diet was reported by 60% (p < 0.0004) and exercise by 55% (p < 0.0004), while 36% of non-users started wearing a safety belt in front (p < 0.0004) and 20% in the rear (p = 0.008). Literature review found comprehensive lifestyle curricula to be rare.
Conclusions: A lifestyle curriculum developed prevention-oriented history-taking and observation skills for health maintenance, addressing health priorities, improving medical student lifestyle, and strengthening generic skills. Since lifestyle is a major determinant of health, medical schools should consider development of an appropriate curriculum to address their local and national health priorities.