Cecelia Mason Published

WVU Medical School cooking up lessons in nutrition


Students at the West Virginia University School of Medicine Martinsburg, W.Va., campus are getting a side dish of cooking lessons along with their regular medical training.

The WVU Medical School’s Eastern Division is trying to fill a void in doctor education through a new class called Med Chef.

The 14 students who are currently earning degrees in the Eastern Panhandle are taking the class. Dr. Rosemarie Cannarella Lorenzetti, associate dean for student services, says medical students have not traditionally learned about nutrition

“In bio chemistry in their second year they’re taught a little bit about how glucose is taken by the cell and how the muscles utilize glucose or stored sugars like glycogen, those kinds of things,” Lorenzetti said. “But when you ask a typical third year student what kind of diet advice they give to the patient they say ‘oh we’re not supposed to do that that’s supposed to come from dieticians.’”

“And certainly in my over 30 years of practice as a family doctor patients ask me all the time for advice about eating,” she added.

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, family medicine professor, said the goal is to arm future doctors with information they can pass along to patients when necessary.

“I don’t see in a 15 minute clinic a doctor’s going to break out a fry pan and start chopping vegetables, but what we’d like to do is connect the dots,” Cucuzzella said.

According to Cucuzzella those dots can include information about nutrition, what foods are healthy, or even what cooking classes are available in the community. He said eating right is the first step to maintaining a healthy weight, and those who are not overweight can often avoid diseases like diabetes or heart attacks.

“We have all this awesome new technology to take care of all these really bad things people are getting now,” Cucuzzella said. “But I think part of our mission is let’s not have to send people for all of these things too and not have to send them for the cardiac bypass and stents, let’s prevent it,”

The students and their professors took a cooking class at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College where they learned how to make dishes like California rolls and chocolate brownies with healthier ingredients. Lorenzetti said another lesson focused on how to ask about a patient’s eating habits in a nonjudgmental way.

“One time we took the whole afternoon and we were just working with the students on how do you take a nutrition history from a patient?,” she said. “I challenge all you to think about the last time you went for a checkup for the doctor and they asked what do you eat?”

Students Rob Ciancaglini from Annapolis, Md., and Wayde Gilmore from Elkins, W.Va., said the information they’re learning will help them be better doctors.

“You can’t have somebody walk into your office and you explain to them 10 recipes,” Ciancaglini said. “There’s no time for that in a clinic setting.”

But Ciancaglini said doctors can help patients make good decisions.

“So something like telling them to stay on the perimeter of the grocery store where all the fresher foods and ingredients are. If you give them simple rules like that then generally you’re going to kind of just eat healthier anyway,” he said.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about nutrition that are out there so I think as a future doctor I think it’s very important to learn how to be healthy, how to eat healthy, what good nutrition actually means,” Gilmore said.

“In the future when I’m in my clinic I want to be able to know the right types of things to tell my patients to help them lead healthier lives and to eat healthier because nutrition has an absolutely massive impact on the wellbeing of your patients,” Gilmore said.