Social constructivism in medical school where students become patients with dietary restrictions

Eileen F. Hennrikus, Michael P. Skolka, Nicholas Hennrikus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Experiential vertical integration of basic science with clinical concepts remains a challenge in medical school curricula. In addition, training physicians in nutritional competency that translates into patient care is a challenging endeavor ranging from biochemical mechanisms to socioeconomic challenges. Methods: Employing a social constructivism paradigm, we implemented a collaborative cook-off competition in a basic science course where 140 first-year medical students per year translated their studies of inborn errors of metabolism, energy metabolism, micronutrients and immunology into edible creations intended for people with disorders requiring dietary management. After learning about the disorders in lecture, problem-based learning, teambased learning and through patient interviews, four problem-based learning groups (7 students per group) were assigned to prepare food dishes for one of the five assigned disorders. Together, students researched the dietary requirements, shopped, paid for, prepared, presented and shared their food. To the class, faculty and re-invited patients, the groups explained the dietary restrictions, the chosen ingredients, how they prepared the food, and why their dish was suitable for the disorder. Each category was judged and awarded a first-place food prize with a grand prize at the end. At the completion of the course, student feedback was elicited via anonymous evaluations. Over 3 years, 380 comments were collected. We used grounded theory to generate a codebook that was then analyzed by the authors for overarching themes. Results: Qualitative results described three major themes: increased relevance of basic science to real life, increased empathy towards complying with dietary restrictions, and increased student group cohesiveness. Conclusion: The patient-centered cook-off competition taught students the relevance of basic science but in addition, it taught empathy towards the patient experience. We also discovered that the process of food preparation was a bonding experience that promoted collaboration, cohesiveness and friendship within the student class.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-511
Number of pages7
JournalAdvances in Medical Education and Practice
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Medicine(all)


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