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Community Engaged Learning in Obesity for Medical Students

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When we published our second Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment back in 2019, one of the findings highlighted a significant issue in obesity management that has been echoed by our community members over and over. That is, the severe lack of trained professionals who specialize in obesity medicine. Beyond that, the training and education on obesity that doctors and health professionals do receive is minimal at best. For this level of training to be considered the norm for one of the most prevalent chronic conditions impacting our population today is unacceptable, and it’s something Obesity Canada has been working to improve for a long time. 

Over the years, Obesity Canada has provided training and education to thousands of doctors and allied health professionals. With the recent launch of our new education platform, we are aiming to exponentially increase that impact. Training more health professionals is one of the easiest ways to improve care for Canadians living with obesity, and it will have a significant positive impact on weight bias and stigma experienced in healthcare. 

Earlier this year Obesity Canada was asked to participate in a unique opportunity through the University of Calgary and the Cumming School of Medicine: the Community Engaged Learning (CEL) program. This program is designed to enhance the training of medical students by engaging them directly with community partners to promote a culture of collegiality and reciprocity among learners and the communities they will serve. The CEL experience also aims to utilize knowledge within the communities with an emphasis on health equity and social determinants of health. 

The program strives to help future physicians better understand and appreciate the lived experience of people in the communities they serve, to appreciate the role of self-determination in their medical care, and to recognize that people with lived experience and the organizations that serve them are experts in how to educate and advocate for their health needs. Studies have shown that when medical students are provided community engaged learning experiences, they are better able to provide appropriate interactions and care for their patients and advocate alongside them. 

As a community partner, Obesity Canada had the privilege of influencing the training of a cohort of third-year medical students. Over the course of four weeks, these future doctors learned that obesity is a chronic disease and what evidence-based obesity management should include. They also learned about weight bias and stigma, and how it impacts care for individuals living with obesity. Perhaps most importantly, they learned directly from people living with obesity on how we view and experience healthcare, and how they can be allies in improving healthcare for us. 

Obesity Canada is viewed as a leader in meaningful patient engagement because we have understood the importance of the lived experience, especially when it comes to obesity. Obesity is something that people don’t talk about or share their experiences freely because of the stigma associated with it. However, when that lived experience is empowered and shared it is a powerful tool for learning, improvement and community building. We look forward to more opportunities with the CEL program and many more!  

If you think you might be interested in contributing to these types of opportunities please review the advocacy course in OC Connect, or if you are aware of other opportunities that would benefit from patient engagement or lived experience knowledge, feel free to reach out to our Director of Advocacy and Public Engagement, Ian Patton ([email protected]). 



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