Hidden curriculum within nutrition education in medical schools

Stephen Martin, Elizabeth Ann Sturgiss, Kirsty A. Douglas, Lauren Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-23
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

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