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NYITCOM Program Aims to Develop “Fit Physicians”

May 5, 2016

Can activity monitors, exercise, and monthly wellness seminars help medical students improve fitness, reduce stress, and score higher on tests? And, through those techniques, will those future doctors be more prepared to help their patients become healthier?

Researchers at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) are asking those questions as part of Fit Physician, a project that will offer Fitbit™ activity monitors, an exercise regimen, and wellness lectures to a segment of the incoming first year class.

The study will measure students’ physical activity, academic scores, sleep patterns, and stress levels against a control group and a third group that will wear fitness trackers, but not attend the wellness or exercise programs. Lead researcher Joanne Donoghue, Ph.D., an assistant professor and exercise physiologist at NYITCOM, says she believes Fit Physician is the only program of its kind in the nation and can serve as a model for integrating healthy habits into medical students’ routines.

“We want to help medical students stay active and educate them on health and fitness while they transition to the demands of their first year of medical school,” says Donoghue. “Our project is the first to examine if activity monitors alone are effective, or if promotional wellness activities to motivate students are needed in addition to the trackers.”

Alexander Stangle, a student researcher on the Fit Physician study, says busy medical students often forgo exercise, skip meals, or develop unhealthy eating habits as they adjust to the pressure and time constraints of school.

“You spend so much time studying and in labs where you’re not active,” says Stangle, an Academic Medicine Scholar who is spending an extra year at NYITCOM to study and conduct the research. “I’m also hoping people will gain an understanding of the health issues medical students face.”

Tracking Steps, Sleep, and Scores

Students in two of the three groups participating in the study will wear fitness trackers, which measure steps per day, caloric intake, heart rates, and sleep patterns. Students will undergo metabolic testing to measure oxygen consumption during exercise, and will undergo body composition scanning to measure body fat percentage and lean body mass.

In addition to wearing a tracker, 40 of the 120 Old Westbury students in the study will attend monthly wellness education seminars from September to May. Topics include stretching, strength training, nutrition, biomechanics, and how to motivate patients to exercise. They also will join the weekly running and walking sessions.

To generate a wider range of data, a smaller group of students at the NYITCOM at Arkansas State University location will also participate in the study, where it will be led by Associate Professor and Vice Chair Dosha Cummins, Pharm.D., and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Andrea Read, D.O.

“The demographics of the medical students in Arkansas are very different from our New York location, and it will be interesting to see the differences in our outcome measures,” says Donoghue.

Other researchers on the project are: Balentine; Assistant Professor Leslie Goldstein, Pharm.D.; School of Health Professions Associate Professor William Werner, Ed.D.; Director of Sports Medicine Hallie Zwibel, D.O.; and Biostatistician Min-Kyung Jung, Ph.D.

Healthy Doctors, Healthy Patients

Fit Physician joins a growing number of NYITCOM health-focused initiatives. Last fall, NYIT Center for Sports Medicine launched a series of wellness lectures with topics on mindfulness, nutrition, sleep, and heart health. In the weekly session “Running with the VP, Walking with Dean,” students discuss current issues (such as the matching process, urban versus rural health care, and study habits) with Vice President for Medical Affairs and Global Health Jerry Balentine, D.O., NYITCOM Dean Wolfgang Gilliar, D.O., and other faculty members. Other students are regulars at weekly yoga sessions. And in what may be the noticeable change: the ubiquitous pizza slices at club meetings have, in many cases, given way to healthier options.

“As a medical school, we need to be a leader in promoting health and wellness for our students, our faculty members, our patients at the Riland Academic Health Care Center, and the patients of the future,” says Balentine.

The Fit Physician team will present its results at the American College of Sports Medicine conference in May 2017.