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On-line Teaching and Training Modules are First for Medical Students

Obesity is an epidemic and when paired with physical inactivity it represents the second leading cause of preventable death nationally from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. But in medical school, there is a training gap when it comes to teaching future doctors about obesity and related health problems.

Researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine have developed what is believed to be the first on-line teaching and training modules for medical students aimed at improving outcomes for overweight and obese patients –

“As public awareness of obesity trends rise, we have yet to close the gap in medical education that addresses the scientific links between certain cancers and obesity. Additionally, studies show a striking lack of sensitivity from the medical community toward obese and overweight patients,” said John Spangler, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Family and Community Medicine. “This new curriculum will address patient-doctor relationships and give students the tools to better understand obesity related health issues and to treat their patients with greater sensitivity.”

The teaching modules project, called the Nutrition, Exercise and Weight Management Lifestyle Intervention (NEW Lifestyle) Curriculum, will teach medical students how to discuss connections between obesity and cancer with their patients, explain the science of obesity and the links with certain preventable cancers, and provide examples of counseling sessions to help the students learn how to sensitively and effectively interact with their patients.

Third-year medical student Alex Eksir of Greensboro, N.C., said he found the site to be very easy to use and navigate while the material was simple and straightforward.

“The information is easily applicable to patients. It gave me ideas to help patients with weight management, and I was able to put them into practice immediately,” Eksir said.

Spangler said that he and his colleagues in the Department of Family and Community Medicine realized that medical education needed to address the national and international obesity epidemic because it will reduce cardiovascular death and decrease cancers related to excess weight.

The on-line teaching modules project was funded as a supplement to the National Institutes of Health parent grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and provided employment opportunities for small businesses in Winston-Salem and Charlotte.  Working with the Wake Forest School of Medicine, three companies pushed the project forward: Practical Magic, LLC, provided web design and external project management; Swiftwater Media provided video content and development support; Skookum provided the back-end programming and administrative console design/implementation.  

“The project was challenging in its evolution and is immensely gratifying as a finished product,” said JoAnne Vernon of Practical Magic, LLC.  “Seeing it through to completion and working with this incredibly talented team is a real source of pride.”

NEW Lifestyle’s format integrates significant feedback from medical students about how they use the internet. Project Manager Donna Kronner convened six focus groups of medical students for their input on the web portal, which brings technology into the forefront of the delivery of medical education.

“We tried to incorporate our students’ learning styles into the Web design to assure their engagement with the content,” Kronner said.

The New Lifestyle on-line teaching modules employ multi-media tools to illustrate important nutritional/scientific/behavioral information in an easy-to-use format. The modules are self-paced so that students can absorb information in a time frame and manner that best meets their particular learning style.

“Traditional teaching methods are still important, but the students of today expect to have information delivered to them by technology as well,” Spangler said. “Students are seeking greater interactivity in their learning – from instructional videos, to on-line presentations and web applications.”

The teaching modules are available to Wake Forest School of Medicine students through the school’s intranet, but the companion public site is available for anyone – student, educator, and general public – to learn more about the science of obesity, its links to cancer, and prevalence of anti-obesity bias in society.


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