My Clinical Nutrition Internship Experience

By Seth Morrison

My name is Seth Morrison, a final year medical student at the Medical School for International Health in Israel. I would like to share with you a taste of my experiences in the ASN’s unique Clinical Nutrition Internship.

Clinical nutrition was never really on my radar as something I might become interested in until halfway through medical school. It was then that I attended the International Congress of Nutrition held in Granada, Spain, where I met some members of the ASN. Like most medical students, the nutrition content in my courses was only enough to whet my appetite. I never had a chance to really delve into nutrition in-depth so that I would feel comfortable counselling patients or speaking intelligently about it with colleagues. The ICN conference opened my eyes to the many different research branches of the nutrition sciences as well as public health nutrition. The global trends in the “double burden” of malnutrition (undernutrition and overnutrition) in developing countries began to worry me, and I started learning about the many efforts that are underway to intervene. All of this made me want to find an opportunity to supplement my nascent interest in nutrition, and see which career avenues exist. I would like to incorporate nutrition into my medical practice and possibly conduct public health nutrition interventions in resource-limited settings worldwide. That is when I discovered this clinical nutrition internship.

I think my internship was an unparalleled opportunity for a medical student to get an insider’s look into the fascinating world of clinical nutrition and nutrition science. The variety of opportunities I had at the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado working with Dr. Nancy Krebs as my mentor gave me the ability to look at the role of nutrition in health from many different angles. I saw how important clinical nutrition is in the weekly outpatient clinics at Children’s Hospital. There were two separate clinics for kids with either growth faltering or obesity. These clinics are where I spent a great deal of my time. Throughout that time, I gradually gleaned the beauty in which skilled nutrition practitioners were able to make a real difference in outcomes as a team. Other physicians in these clinics, along with the amazing nutritionists, nurses, and a clinical psychologist, each contributed to my education in unique ways. They taught me the decision-making process of how to decipher clues to the causes of very different clinical nutrition problems (i.e. overweight vs. underweight), whether they be organic, lifestyle-related, or sometimes, in the case of young children, family food-related behaviors. This created the immensely enjoyable opportunity to decipher solutions to these myriad problems with clinical judgement and a creativity that respects the patient’s/family’s abilities and interests. I like to say today that in order to provide effective dietary counselling to patients, each doctor should have a little bit of a nutritionist inside them. This skill is one of the greatest gifts that the internship provided me for my own toolbox of clinical skills.

A sampling of the other components of my internship that made it very well-rounded were a research project, visits to WIC clinics, family eating well classes, several journal clubs and special nutrition lectures every week, and even a few nutrition-related Grand Rounds on Friday afternoons. I also completed a research project, which was a small metabolomics study on the relative serum levels of acylcarnitines and branched-chain amino acids in lean vs. obese groups of pregnant Guatemalan women.

This research component of the internship added an essential ingredient to the overall experience. Not only did I get to work with a fantastic and knowledgeable basic science researcher on a project in a burgeoning field of nutrition science (metabolomics), I also gained new skills and refined others that are needed in any research project I may become involved with in the future. This academic component reinforced the ever-present need for an army of researchers to inform the nutritional counsel given to patients in clinical medicine.

Inpatient care in the University of Colorado Hospital especially gave me the chance to see how crucial proper nutrition is for pre- and post-operative patients, burn unit patients, and of course in critical care. The nutrition support physician and the knowledgeable dietitians there broadened my knowledge of TPN and other topics in critical care nutrition research. In doing so, the truth was ingrained in me that nutrition is dynamic and can, in different circumstances, be prevention, treatment, or even both. Whether a patient is acutely ill or on a path of long term lifestyle change to reach a healthy weight, nutrition is likely to play an important role in their success!

The ASN Clinical Nutrition Internship satiated a special hunger for this nutrition niche in my medical education. I could not be more grateful and proud to have been awarded this unique opportunity, and the memories from it will linger with me for the rest of my career. As a soon-to-be physician, I’ve now learned that nutrition is a bit like music. It’s nice to listen to, but to really appreciate it, you must also learn to play some of your own notes.