An Indiana University of Pennsylvania Food and Nutrition Professor is providing innovative training to the inaugural cohort of medical residents at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

Stephanie Taylor-Davis, chair of IUP’s Department of Food and Nutrition, received a scholarship from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to complete the certified lifestyle medicine professional training and funding to register to take the certification examination. She passed the certification exam in December 2022, earning the designation of DipACLM.

“Our IUP students have gained valuable experience and mentoring at IRMC throughout our almost 30-year collaboration, including as interns working with IRMC registered dietitians,” she said. “Offering this training to the IRMC medical residents is another opportunity to strengthen that collaboration, and to build stronger relationships between the medical residents and our department.”

“Not only does it provide the training necessary for the IRMC medical residents to take the ACLM exam and earn that certification, our IUP students are part of the hands-on training sessions held in IUP’s Ackerman Hall teaching kitchens with the IRMC medical residents,” Taylor-Davis said.

Lifestyle medicine is a medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions including, but not limited to, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.  Lifestyle medicine-certified clinicians are trained to apply evidence-based, whole-person, prescriptive lifestyle change to treat and, when used intensively, often reverse such conditions.

Lifestyle medicine has six pillars: whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connections. The American Board of Lifestyle Medicine sets and maintains standards for the assessment and credentialing of physicians in lifestyle medicine.

The idea for this collaboration began three years ago when family practice physician and IRMC Rural Family Medicine Residency Program Director Amanda Vaglia was beginning the medical residency application process.

IUP Food and Nutrition professor Nicole Clark knew of Vaglia’ s interest in nutrition and its link to health and introduced Taylor-Davis and Vaglia to begin discussions about the possibility of providing some kind of nutrition training to the IRMC resident physicians.

“Dr. Vaglia was looking for an opportunity for the medical residents to get support and training about nutrition,” Taylor-Davis said. “She knew about the internship program and the ongoing relationship with our department and hoped we could use our IUP Food Lab to develop some kind of teaching kitchen concept, especially because the medical residency program had a focus on the doctors taking care of the whole person and becoming acquainted with the community.

“Vaglia knew about the certified lifestyle medicine professional curriculum and asked for my opinion. I did research about it, and really liked that it was both evidence-based and science-based,” she said.

A working relationship with a hospital or medical center was part of the requirements to receive the scholarship for the training, so the IUP-IRMC collaboration was key to Taylor-Davis’ success in obtaining the scholarship.

“Not only has this training been a way to extend IUP’s impact on rural health providers, it has changed the way that I approach my teaching,” Taylor-Davis said. “It continues to be so very impactful, and I remain very grateful for the opportunity to achieve this certification.” 

“Our family medicine residency program at IRMC is very excited that someone like Dr. Taylor-Davis, with both her level of food and nutrition expertise as well as her robust academic background, is contributing to the education of our resident physicians,” Vaglia said. “We look forward to discovering all of the great information that Dr. Taylor-Davis has learned through her lifestyle medicine certification.”

During the hands-on monthly programming at IUP, the medical residents are paired with IUP Food and Nutrition interns for hands-on, small-group work. In January, the medical residents worked with the IUP interns to prepare themed charcuterie boards; in February, the program focused on cardiovascular health (themed to American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day); in March, in celebration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month theme “Fuel for the Future,” the program focused on childhood obesity, planning for healthy snacks, and strategies to support families eating meals together.  Upcoming programs will address culinary medicine, sustainable nutrition, access to food, and nutrition and lifestyle impacts on diabetes, cancer, and hypertension. 

“These sessions allow our students to talk directly with the medical residents and have conversations in an informal setting about the role that allied health professions can provide to medical doctors,” Taylor-Davis said.

“It’s a unique opportunity for our students to learn how to articulate the value of food, nutrition, and dietetics, and the benefits of working together to help patients,” she said. “Not only is it about food and nutrition, but it’s recognizing the benefits of certain items in foods, and even what foods are contraindicated when patients are on certain medications,” she said.

“It is our hope that this training provides a foundation for our students as well as for the medical residents so that they can feel comfortable talking about preventative lifestyle intervention in their practice, to having that conversation about nutrition and foods, because food is a major contributor to health or illness,” she said.

Taylor-Davis said that the program also raises topics related to food and nutrition, including the issue of food insecurity—which is often hidden—in order that the medical residents are aware and sensitized about this issue as part of their family medicine practice.

In addition to Vaglia, Taylor-Davis works closely with IRMC dietitians Nettie Albohali, general manager of the clinical inpatient nutrition program at IRMC, and IRMC clinical nutrition manager Tricia Goncher, who are working to support the medical residents to integrate conversations about nutrition as part of patient education and to help prepare for their lifestyle medicine certification exam. Albohali, who is an IUP food and nutrition master’s graduate, also is a faculty member in IUP’s Food and Nutrition Department.

IUP’s Food and Nutrition faculty are also key contributors to the program, Taylor-Davis said.

Jodie Seybold, director of the two-year graduate-level Master of Science Dietitian-Nutritionist Program, assists with planning and cofacilitates the interprofessional collaboration between the IRMC residents and IUP dietitian-nutritionist interns. In this process, the resident physicians and dietitian-nutritionist interns learn from each with the goal to optimize healthcare for patients through food and nutrition as a primary lifestyle prescription to prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic disease, especially in our rural communities.

IRMC’s Rural Family Medicine Residency Program officially started on July 1, 2022. IRMC’s resident physicians were chosen from a pool of roughly 600 applicants.

The resident physicians are Nawar Al Janabi, of Baghdad, Iraq; Tanvi Bharathan, of Indiana, PA; Mohit Chhatpar, of New York; Robin Rodriguez, of Corpus Christi, Texas; and Narinder Sangha, of California. The resident physicians work with and report to an attending physician as they learn and practice family medicine over the next three years.