A New Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education

Nov 1, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Jenny Bogard

Providers need to be equipped with the tools to help patients make healthy choices. That’s why the Alliance for Healthier Generation is recognizing innovative training programs providing nutrition, physical activity and obesity counseling education to their students.

Even at the young age of four, Luke was overweight. In fifth grade, he tried out for the baseball team, and although he made it, he struggled that season. He was slower than the other kids as he rounded the bases, and he started having knee pain from the extra weight on his joints. Luke and his family knew they had to do something. But they dreaded going to the doctor, knowing he’d get weighed and then have to confront the escalating numbers on the scale. Year after year, the same thing would happen, and they’d have the same discussion with his doctor when they finally worked up the nerve to go. But the weight never came off.

Apprehension about a visit to the doctor is something we all face, no matter our age or health. Who among us doesn’t get a little nervous before our annual visit, knowing we might face a difficult conversation about losing weight, or flossing more, or stopping smoking? These are things we all know, but have a hard time talking about.

And even worse, if we do have these important conversations, they can lead to feelings of shame and disappointment.

But the reality is that it’s not necessarily your doctor’s fault. Even with the hundreds of thousands of hours of education your doctor gets in classrooms and hospitals, most receive little to no training in how to talk to patients about making healthy choices. In fact, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The good news is that there are physicians, medical schools and even medical students that are slowly trying to change the face of health professional training and education around issues like nutrition, physical activity and obesity—some of the biggest threats to living a long, healthy life. There are people like Luke's doctor, Dr. Babcock, who began counseling him—together with his family—on how to eat better, advising them to incorporate more vegetables and fruit in their diets and cut down on sugar. In just 60 days, Luke’s friends and coaches had already noticed a difference. And Dr. Babcock isn’t alone—she’s just one of many who, every day, are making small changes in how they communicate with their patients in order to make a large difference in their lives.

Even with the hundreds of thousands of hours of education your doctor gets in classrooms and hospitals, most receive little to no training in how to talk to patients about making healthy choices.

That’s why my colleagues and I at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, along with the American College of Sports Medicine, and the Bipartisan Policy Center, are launching for the first time the Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education. The award is the first and only one of its kind to recognize leading health professional training programs around the country that have developed new and innovative ways to provide nutrition, physical activity, and obesity counseling education to their students. We believe that health care providers—as trusted sources of information to their patients—are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in the prevention and management of diseases linked to diet, nutrition and physical activity to help all kids grow up at a healthy weight. But unless we equip them with the tools to address these issues, we’re failing not only our providers, but their patients as well.

It highlights the inventive educational models—from pediatrics to physical therapy—that are leading the charge to not only include this kind of counseling in their programs, but are making it an integral part of their curricula. It’s the programs that expose health professionals to this training not just once, but every year, that reach the majority of students and that actually provide credit for participation—these are the kinds of programs that really make a difference.

We’ll be highlighting this work across three categories of awards: schools or programs offering innovative training for future health care professionals, schools or programs offering innovative professional development or graduate training for current health professionals, and student-led programs offering innovative training or curricula.

We think these programs can serve as models for other training programs and schools, inspiring them to strengthen and promote their own programs, representing a level of care that can and should be the norm for patients young and old. Consider Luke. Thanks to the support from Dr. Babcock, today Luke is in high school and has lost more than 22 pounds. His clothes fit, he can play baseball without knee pain, he knows how to make healthy choices in his diet, and most importantly, he’s happier and more confident than ever. We believe that every patient in this country should have a health provider like Dr. Babcock in their lives, and we want to honor them.