Background Medical nutrition education aims to equip doctors with adequate nutrition knowledge, skills, attitudes and confidence to counsel patients about how to improve their diet and health. Incorporating sufficient nutrition education into medical curricula remains an ongoing challenge for medical schools.
Objective This study aimed to describe changes in medical students’ self-perceived nutrition competence at three time points during medical training.
Method A prospective longitudinal observational study was conducted among one year-group of students at the University of Auckland, School of Medicine. In May 2016, Year 2 medical students (phase 1, preclinical) were surveyed for self-perceived nutrition competence using the validated NUTCOMP tool. The survey was repeated with the same students in February 2018 as Year 4 students and July 2019 (phase 2, clinical) as Year 5 students.
Results In 2016, 102 of 279 eligible Year 2 medical students completed the survey [response rate (RR 36.7%)]. In 2018, 89 Year 4 students repeated the survey (RR 87.3%) and 26 students as Year 5 students in 2019 (RR 25.5%). There was a significant increase in total NUTCOMP scores (knowledge, skills, confidence to counsel and attitude towards nutrition) between Year 2 and Year 4 (p=0.012). There was a significant increase in the confidence to counsel construct (mean difference 7.615, 95% CI 2.291-12.939, p=0.003) between Year 2 and Year 4. Constructs with lowest scores at all time points were nutrition knowledge and nutrition skills. There was clear desire for more nutrition education from all students: Year 2 [mean=3.8 out of 5, (1.1)], Year 4 [mean=3.9 out of 5 (0.9)], Year 5 [mean=3.8 out of 5 (0.8)].
Conclusion Medical students’ self-perceived nutrition competence in providing nutrition care increased modestly at three points throughout medical training. Opportunity exists for further supporting medical students to increase their competence nutrition care, which could be achieved through mandatory and greater medical nutrition education.
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