Elgar Delves into Distance Learning

Climbing the Learning Curve in Obesity Medicine

After years of having not much to offer people suffering from the health effects of obesity, healthcare providers find themselves climbing a learning curve in obesity medicine. The pressure is here because the options for medical care of obesity have leapt forward recently. Minimally invasive bariatric surgery can offer dramatic improvements in health. Advanced medicines for obesity are coming closer to matching those dramatic results without the need for surgery. The tools are better.

But healthcare professionals are playing catch-up. Obesity medicine physician Scott Kahan describes the longstanding gap to NPR’s Yuki Noguchi:

“Doctors traditionally learn nothing about obesity, not in medical school or residency. What we learned is essentially just: ‘Obesity is very prevalent and you’re going to see it in lots of your patients. And it’s really important for people to eat less and exercise more.’ That’s pretty much it.”

And because of that, people with obesity learned that most healthcare professionals would offer them perspective based more on their biases about fatness than on a medical understanding of obesity.

The Growing Specialty of Obesity Medicine

But thank goodness, this is changing rapidly. The American Board of Obesity Medicine just announced that another 956 physicians passed the most recent ABOM certification exam. That brings the number of board certified obesity medicine specialists to 6,729.

These are physicians who have demonstrated they have the knowledge and skills to offer evidence-based care consistent with clinical practice guidelines, as Kimberly Gudzune et al recently described. Growth in the numbers of doctors with this advanced certification started from scratch just ten years ago.

Filling the Gap in Primary Care

There is a big gap to fill in primary care, though. As the people living with this condition learn that good options exist for managing it, they will expect more from their primary care providers than glib advice to shape up. Professionals in training will no longer accept training with the kinds of gaps in obesity training that Scott Butsch and colleagues documented just two years ago.

A fourth-year medical student, Tong Yan, describes how he recoiled from one of his supervising physicians scolding a patient because they had obesity:

“I am ashamed to say that I didn’t really say much. It was just an observation that left a big impact.”

So we are hopeful that primary care professionals will step up to the challenge of climbing the learning curve in obesity medicine. Those who do not will find themselves left behind with substandard skills and knowledge.

Click here for more from Yuki Noguchi, here for the study by Gudzune et al, and here for the study by Butsch et al.

Elgar Delves into Distance Learning, painting by Lew (tomswift) Holzman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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February 1, 2023