From the Farm to the Doctor’s Office

uvmmedicine blogger Conner Soderquist '20
uvmmedicine blogger Conner Soderquist ’20

An incredible mentor gave me some of the best advice I’ve received in medical school so far: Now is the time to build healthy habits that will sustain me for the rest of my career. Yes, I want to become a competent medical student and doctor, but I also want to be a good husband, friend, and member of my community. Engaging in projects I’m passionate about reminds me why I’m on this path to become a doctor, and it’s this desire to carve space for wellness (and fun) that brought me to the field of culinary medicine.

Before medical school, I was a farmer. My interest in how what we eat influences our health led me to the post-baccalaureate premedical program at the University of Vermont and to Diane Imrie, the director of Nutrition Services at UVM Medical Center. Meeting with her will forever change the trajectory of my career. Diane introduced me to the budding field of culinary medicine, which blends sustainable agriculture and medicine to recognize that healthy food plays a pivotal role in taking charge of our health. Nationally recognized for their work in this field, Diane and her team are at the forefront of making healthy food an integral part of health care for the UVM Health Network. At the time, Diane was beginning work on a project called the Health Care Share, a collaboration with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps farm, to offer patients a farm share free of charge and provide them with the culinary skills and knowledge necessary to use the produce in their share. Working with this program for two years before medical school taught me just how powerful teaching hands-on culinary skills and nutrition education can be. As I am learning in medical school, patients face many barriers to health, with food insecurity and lack of access to healthy food significant problems in our community. I believe it is a healthcare provider’s responsibility to address the whole patient, and this means accounting for social determinants such as access to healthy food when assessing a patient’s health goals.

Now as a medical student at the Larner College of Medicine, I have had the honor of furthering my passion for culinary medicine through a year-long Schweitzer Fellowship in collaboration with Centerpoint School in Burlington. Students at the school, mental health services staff and I learned cooking skills and the basics of nutrition to empower us to take charge of our health. Taking on topics students and staff were interested in, and weaving in nutrition education and cooking skills, we covered everything from healthy nachos to making lacto-fermented sauerkraut. At times, our classes delved into the physiology of diabetes, and at times we put on students’ choice of music and simply cooked together. Through this work I learned just how important food is in our lives and in our choices. Addressing food and nutrition allowed us to talk about topics such as food insecurity, body image, cravings, and how what we eat influences our microbiome.  I am confident that these conversations and this experience will help me become a more competent doctor, especially when it comes to understanding my patients’ lifestyle decisions.

Culinary medicine has helped me understand what I want my future as a physician to look like. I have been fortunate to have incredible mentors along the way, to be supported by wonderful community partners, and to be a part of a medical school and hospital network committed to furthering culinary medicine. Beyond the benefits to our waistline and hemoglobin A1c value, cooking together, especially with patients and students, is simply a lot of fun. As I shape the kind of husband, friend, community member, and doctor I want to be, I will be making a habit of pursuing passions that will keep me grounded and inspired.

 

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