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Hidden curriculum within nutrition education in medical schools
  1. Stephen Martin1,
  2. Elizabeth Sturgiss1,2,
  3. Kirsty Douglas1 and
  4. Lauren Ball3,4
  1. 1Academic Unit of General Practice, Australian National University Medical School, College of Health and Medicine, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  2. 2Department of General Practice, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
  4. 4NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Associate Professor Lauren Ball, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD 4222, Australia; l.ball{at}


Introduction Previous attempts to enhance medical nutrition education have typically focussed on students’ acquiring nutrition knowledge or skills. Given that medical training uses an apprenticeship model of training, surprisingly few studies have explored the ‘hidden curriculum’ that students experience regarding expectations of behaviour, roles and responsibilities regarding nutrition. This study explored medical students’ perceptions and experiences regarding medical nutrition education, focussing on the context in which nutrition teaching has been provided, the presented place of nutrition within medicine and their subsequent views on their role in providing nutrition care.

Methods Individual semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 14 postgraduate medical students at different stages of their medical degree in Australia. The interviews were conducted using case studies followed by interview questions. Data were audio recorded, transcribed, coded and then underwent inductive thematic analysis.

Results Three themes were discovered (i) Valuing nutrition in the medical management of patients whereby students perceived nutrition to be a foundational and central component of ideal medical management for patients, particularly those with chronic disease; (ii) Fluctuating emphasis on nutrition which showed that students experienced diversity in the importance placed on nutrition by others and (iii) Working with others whereby students expressed their understanding of their role in nutrition and the roles of team members such as dietitians.

Conclusion To enhance medical nutrition education, consideration needs to extend beyond counting dedicated teaching hours and mapping nutrition content, to a more contextual understanding of the situated learning that occurs for medical students.

  • preventive counselling
  • nutrition assessment
  • nutritional treatment

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Correction notice The article has been corrected since it was published online. The license type of the article has been updated to CC BY-NC.

  • Contributors All authors participated in the design and conceptualisation of the project. SM conducted data collection, supported by ES, KD and LB. SM and ES had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. All authors participated in the analysis and interpretation of the data and writing of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research project was supported by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners with funding from the Australian Government under the Australian General Practice Training programme.

  • Disclaimer The funder had no role in the design, conduct, analysis or publication of the work. SM and ES had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The project was approved by the institutional Human Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. Please email for data requests.

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