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Medical student health behaviors and the influence on patient outcomes




Jortberg, Bonnie, author
Harris, Mary, advisor
Cunningham-Sabo, Leslie, advisor
Kennedy, Catherine, committee member
Johnson, Susan, committee member

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Purpose: Lifestyle habits are important risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in industrialized nations. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (ATP III) recommend lifestyle changes as the primary and most cost-effective means of reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Yet few physicians advise their patients about lifestyle modification. The main objective of this study was to determine if the nutrition and physical activity habits of medical students affect their patients' health behaviors on several important aspects of lifestyle modification: increased fruit, vegetable, and soy intake, and physical activity.
Methods: Third-year medical students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine were recruited to complete a pre- Healthy Doc-Healthy Patient survey upon entry into the required Rural and Community Care (RCC) and Adult Ambulatory Care (AAC) eight-week rotation. Medical students received training on administering the Healthy Doc-Healthy Patient surveys to patients, and training on CHD risk assessment and behavioral contracting. Students were required to give surveys to a total of eight patients during both RCC and AAC rotations. Patients in the AAC rotation received the CHD risk assessment and behavioral contracting. Post-surveys were given to patients, with instructions to return in four weeks. No CHD intervention was given to patients in the RCC rotation. To determine if participation affected medical students' behaviors, students with pre-survey data completed a post-survey at the end of the eight-week rotation.
Results: Both pre- and post- surveys were completed by 66 medical students and 133 patients. No significant changes were seen in the medical students or patients between the pre- and post-surveys. Baseline moderate and mild exercise time for medical students significantly correlated with an increase in soy intake for their patients (r=.52, p=0.02; r=.58, p=0.01), and medical students' soy intake significantly correlated with an increase in patients' strenuous exercise time (r=.52, p=0.01). Other significant correlations were seen when stratifying by gender and specialty choice.
Conclusions: Although health behaviors of medical students and patients did not change, several significant correlations were seen between baseline dietary and physical activity habits of medical students and changes in their patients' dietary and physical activity habits. These results indicate that health behaviors of medical students may have an association with health behavior outcomes of patients whom they counsel. Future research is needed to examine the impact of medical students' health behaviors and how these behaviors impact patient outcomes.


2011 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references.

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health and environmental sciences
Health education
cardiovascular disease
fruit and vegetables
medical student health
patient health behaviors
physical activity


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