The Family Doctor János Plesch

Where Do Obesity Medicine Physicians Learn the Specialty?

Deborah Bade Horn and Katherine DuncanToday’s post comes with our gratitude from Katherine Duncan, the first fellow in obesity medicine in the  McGovern Medical School of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She offers a personal perspective on obesity medicine physicians learning to practice this emerging specialty.

I discovered early in my medical training that I wanted to focus my career on caring for patients with obesity. My interest stemmed from the complex pathology of the disease. It requires multifaceted treatment programs. Obesity has a pervasive effect on so many of our lives. But in medical school and residency, most doctors are simply taught to recommend diet and exercise for weight loss. Unfortunately, when the patient returns for follow up and has been unsuccessful in their attempt, many doctors think the patient just didn’t follow their advice. I knew that there was more to it than just “diet and exercise”, but I struggled to find a way to bridge the gap in my knowledge.

For most medical specialties, a physician completes their chosen residency and then decides whether or not to do a fellowship in a subspecialty. After completing residency in internal medicine, I started looking into additional training opportunities in obesity medicine. There were only four clinical fellowships in the United States.

This year, I am very grateful to be the first fellow in the fifth clinical fellowship program in the country. It is the Carolyn J. and Robert J. Allison Jr. Family Foundation Fellowship in Clinical Obesity Medicine and Metabolism at the University of Texas Center for Obesity Medicine and Metabolic Performance. I have the opportunity to learn from leading medical and surgical obesity experts with years of experience treating this chronic progressive disease. With fellowship training, I will be better prepared to care for my patients. I am learning to use all tools available to treat this disease. Fundamental components of nutrition and physical activity are a core of the program.

More and more physicians are choosing obesity medicine. So we need more fellowship programs to provide the training they need. Patients need care from physicians equipped to treat this chronic disease. Funding for fellowship programs through a collaborative effort between federal, industry, clinical, and academic partners can make this happen.

Currently, clinical obesity medicine fellowships exist at the University of Texas, Harvard, Cornell, Boston University, and Geisinger. For more information on the fellowship at the University of Texas, contact Salome Roe at

To learn more about this new fellowship program, click here.

The Family Doctor János Plesch, painting by Max Slevogt / WikiArt

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January 6, 2017