Medical students collaborate with students of Nutrition and Health thanks to Regio Deal Foodvalley

Published on
January 10, 2023

What a remarkable educational project, say all those involved. Recently, medical students from UMC Utrecht and students of Nutrition & Health from Wageningen University & Research joined forces. Together they worked on a joint teaching assignment about the importance of nutrition in healthcare. Many diseases can be prevented by eating and living healthier. Strengthening each other's knowledge is therefore essential for healthier healthcare. The project initiates from the Region Deal Foodvalley, where national government, regional governments and (knowledge) partners work together on a sustainable and healthy food system.

Anneke Berendts is project leader Nutrition Education for Medical Care and co-coordinated the assignment for the 450 students.

What makes this educational project so special?

Students who collaborate between studies within Wageningen University & Research are common, as are students following a minor at another university than their own. An interdisciplinary collaboration between students from different universities, however, is rare. Especially if this takes place within the compulsory courses and with so many students at the same time. It is a form of so-called 'modern studying', in which complementary programs from different universities work together. The program is in line with recent developments in society, both in terms of content and skills.

How does this course align with society?

Education about nutrition and health is important in order to promote healthy and sustainable food in the healthcare sector. It is good that students of Nutrition and Health are extra aware of the preventive power of nutrition in the development of diseases. Since Wageningen University & Research itself does not have a medical faculty, the collaboration with UMC Utrecht offers a great opportunity to enrich education with a medical perspective. By the way, these future food scientists are not likely to advise patients later on, that role lies with the dietitian. However, the medical insights gained help to further improve the advice to dieticians.

Viewed from the medical students' perspective, professional, individual support helps people to switch to and maintain a healthier diet. A doctor can play an important role in this, by putting nutrition and lifestyle on the agenda, including it in the treatment, motivating the patient and referring them to a dietician if necessary. In certain cases, medication use is prevented or reduced when nutrition is used as a treatment option. It is therefore important that medical training devotes more attention to prevention, nutrition and lifestyle and to transdisciplinary collaboration.

What did the assignment look like?

All 450 first-year students from the two programs participated in this assignment. Lecturers from both programs worked on three different cases. In each case a patient was described with a condition related to its lifestyle. The students had to carry out two assignments in mixed groups: they formulated professional advice with scientific substantiation for professionals and a concise comprehensible message for the patient. Collaborating with students from the other discipline was an explicit learning objective. The assignment was concluded with several group sessions in which students presented the solutions of their three different case assignments to each other. As a result, the students also learned subjects other than their own case.

Will this be a permanent part of the two programmes?

The assignment recurs annually in the curriculum of the first-year students of Nutrition & Health (Wageningen University & Research) and Medicine (UMC Utrecht). It doesn't stop there. The subject will become an important part of education, with a focus on nutrition, lifestyle and prevention in the continuously developing medical education. Other examples are the interdisciplinary challenge BITT. Master's students from Wageningen University & Research work together with students from TU/e and students of medicine and biomedical sciences at Utrecht University. Furthermore, a joint scientific master's internship between the two programs is being developed.

How do the students look back on the project?

A selection of the reactions:

Medical students:

A doctor almost always prescribes pills, in my opinion this is certainly not always the best route. Nutrition should be implemented more in the medical world.
Now every block has a pharmaceutical component, a food component should be added in the same way.
Interesting that as a medical student you think about the effects of food, as opposed to looking directly at medication.

Nutrition students:

This assignment shows that nutrition is not only important for staying healthy, but can also play an important role in medical care.
Collaboration is important: not only interdisciplinary, but in a broad sense, being open to other visions is an important skill. That makes this assignment extra valuable.
We concluded that collaboration between nutrition and care is of great importance, because we have seen that they mutually influence each other.
There are quite a lot of diseases that can be affected by nutrition, the medical world should do more with that.