UCF medical school incorporates culinary skills

For the second year in a row, medical students at the University of Central Florida don aprons and learn how to prepare healthy meals.

It’s all part of a culinary medicine program that began in 2018.

Nemours Children’s Hospital registered dietitian Mandy Layman is one of the instructors. She believes by teaching medical students about nutrition, they will be better equipped to treat their patients. 

“That's a big challenge for Americans these days, how to cook healthy at home, and these doctors will be able to do that,” says Layman.

In the classroom, dietitians and pediatricians educate students. Once they enter the large teaching kitchen at the Orlando-based Rosen College of Hospitality, chefs take center stage, teaching knife skills and cooking techniques.

Chef Robb Seltzer is one of the directors at the Rosen College of Hospitality and was thrilled to become a faculty member in the culinary medicine program. 

“It's going to be a movement,” Seltzer says. “I was pretty excited actually because I’ve been involved in food and medicine for a while.” 

Students spend one month in the elective course. So far, Seltzer has taught three groups of medical students and likes what he is seeing.

“They're the exact type of student that you'd want to be your doctor,” Seltzer says.

The University of Central Florida joins 50 universities across the nation to teach this culinary curriculum to students. The training program that began at Tulane Medical School in 2012 has now expanded to nursing, medical residency programs, and community physicians.

Pediatric endocrinologist and obesity expert, Dr. Robert Karch is the medical director of the UCF program. 

He says, along with classes, students are required to teach their new skills to community members.

They currently help educate veterans in the Orlando V.A. hospital system, children and families from Nemours Children’s Hospital, Grace Medical Home, and Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and patients from the Advent Health Diabetes Center. They also participate in a corporate wellness program for Rosen Hotel employees.

“By the end of the first week, they're answering questions, they're giving evidence-based advice to their patients and that's what this course is all about,” says Karch.  

Fourth-year medical student Carlos Delgado says there are other benefits.

"I think it's fun, cathartic, relieving of stress,” says Delgado. 

He also says it’s changing the way he cooks at home.

“I have a beginner-level knowledge of cooking and this has taught me a lot. Every day, I'm learning something new,” he said.