A Culinary Medicine Revolution at Tulane
David Ferriss, MD, MPH
In the most recent study of nutrition education in U.S. medical schools, Kelly Adams and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina Department of Nutrition concluded, “The teaching of nutrition in U.S. medical schools still appears to be in a precarious position, lacking a firm, secure place in the medical curriculum of most medical schools.” Indeed, the 2010 study published in Academic Medicine found that only 27% of 105 medical schools responding to a survey met the minimum requirement of 25 hours established by the National Academy of Sciences in 1985.
Not so at Tulane! In August of 2014, the Tulane University Medical School opened its new 4,600 sq. ft. Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, the first-of-its-kind medical school teaching kitchen, for the nutritional education of medical students, residents, practicing physicians, and community residents. The kitchen is led by Dr. Timothy Harlan, an internist and the Executive Director of the Goldring Center.
A professional chef by passion and training who subsequently pursued a career in medicine and assumed the identity of Dr. Gourmet, Harlan realized at the beginning of his medical career the powerful influence that food has on health and disease. In addition to his role as an Assistant Dean, Harlan has guided the creation of a culinary medicine program at Tulane that has achieved an impressive number of firsts:
Some 156 medical students have completed an eight-module culinary medicine curriculum since the program was launched three years ago. While the curriculum was originally offered as a series of elective courses, the culinary medicine courses are now being incorporated into the core curriculum for all medical students. In addition, senior medical students have the option of teaching community residents healthy eating nutrition and culinary skills as part of a fourth year student community health elective and of completing a culinary medicine rotation at the Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island.
A key aspect of Tulane’s success has been a ground-breaking collaboration between Tulane and Johnson & Wales. Chef Leah Sarris was a culinary nutrition instructor at Johnson & Wales when Tulane started its culinary medicine program in 2012 but subsequently became the first chef to join a medical school faculty. She currently serves as the Program Director of the Goldring Center and directs the multiple educational and service initiatives of the center.
From its inception, the Tulane Culinary Medicine Program has embraced an evidence-based approach to nutrition and its application in the American kitchen in order to educate physicians to help their patients prevent and combat chronic disease. For Tulane, this has meant embracing the principles of a Mediterranean Diet, an eating pattern that stresses an abundance of whole plant-based foods along with limited amounts of lean animal protein and olive oil as the major source of fat. “Our goal is to translate the excellent body of nutrition research into the conversation that a physician will have in the examination room with patients about food” says Harlan. “It is key that we teach physicians practical strategies to help fill the now nearly empty lifestyle side of our toolbox giving them the powerful tools that we can use to prevent and treat disease.” In a city with a long tradition of rich cuisine and a state in which some two-thirds of school children have a BMI greater than 30, Harlan believes a Mediterranean eating pattern can best be successful in moving individuals towards much healthier food options while still respecting long-ingrained culinary traditions.
Culinary Medicine at Tulane has four core missions:
1. Core Mission 1: Medical Students: Culinary medicine core curriculum and elective curriculum components are available at all levels, first to fourth year as well as residency programming.
2. Core Mission 2: The Community: Teaching kitchen staff and medical students conduct numerous beginner and intermediate-level healthy-eating culinary classes each year to New Orleans area residents, in particular targeting at-risk youth, schools, community centers, and community clinics.
3. Core Mission 3: Professional Education: Goldring Center staff provide comprehensive culinary medicine educational programming for family medicine residents, Johnson & Wales interns, dietetic interns, and practicing physicians from all over the United States. A culinary medicine certification program for practicing physicians launched in March 2015.
4. Core Mission 4: Research and Outcomes: Research to demonstrate the impact of culinary medicine programming on medical students, practicing physicians, patients, and community members is a primary focus of the Goldring Center, and there is a growing list of publications in peer-reviewed journals and accepted posters at major scientific meetings.
The Tulane Culinary Medicine Program is indeed a ground-breaking program whose impact will undoubtedly be felt in the way physicians practice medicine and consequently the health and well-being of their patients. Perhaps the most concise summary of what Dr. Timothy Harlan and Tulane are doing is found in Tulane’s description of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine: “A Tulane University School of Medicine initiative to promote culinary literacy — and change the course of chronic disease in America.”
Contact Dr. Harlan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For more information on The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane: