Medical school is one of the most challenging achievements someone can undergo. It is held up in our society as one of the pillars of success. However, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can come with damaging obstacles. One such obstacle is food insecurity, an issue prevalent among medical students.
According to Flynn et al’s study Assessing Food Insecurity in Medical Students, food insecurity in medical students may be similar to that of the general population. The lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food is present in 11.1% of the general population.
25.7% of respondents in the study reported that at some time in medical school, they did not have enough food. The main reasons for food insecurity among medical students cited in the study were not being able to get to the store and insufficient funds.
Assessing Food Insecurity in Medical Students also stated “food insecurity is related to poorer health and adverse academic outcomes.” Being successful in your medical school journey should not be hindered by the lack of food.
So, what is one to do to remedy this? Yes, a lot needs to be done at the institutional and societal level, but that does not help the current medical student struggling to feed themselves. Should you take out more loans and potentially put yourself in a larger hole farther down the line?
Interestingly, the study found no relationship between student loan amount to food insecurity. So what other options exist?
The study recommended the increase of online services to deliver groceries, especially to medical schools that are located in food deserts, such as the one that the study used. Most significantly, they stressed the importance of having additional studies on this topic at medical schools across the county, as well as with graduate medical education programs.
Some medical schools have identified this issue and are working to combat it. Thomas Jefferson University has launched a food pantry where students can access non-perishable goods, as well as grocery store gift cards for fresh food and more vegan and gluten-free options. They reiterate on their website that poverty is not the main driver of the issue, but rather, a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. They have plans to expand this program.
Dr. Charles A. Pohl, Center City Campus Chancellor of Thomas Jefferson University and Vice Dean for Student Affairs & Career Counseling at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, has been involved in this program.
“Sadly, food insecurity remains a threat to our medical students as with many Americans due to economic hardship and growing student debt, and has only magnified during the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Pohl says. “Programs such as these are critical to ensure student wellbeing and academic success and are at the core of our mission.”
On the west coast, Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) began delivering groceries to students in the pandemic, and is now transitioning to creating a food resource center on campus where students can access fresh, healthy food. This was born out of a survey conducted at OHSU that found that 1 out of every 4 students (including nurses, dental students, etc.) experienced food security, and listed not having access to fresh food and not having the skills or time to cook food as the main reasons for why food insecurity was such an issue.
With more programs like these, perhaps we can ease the burden of medical school, one meal at a time.
Bridget Balch. (January 14, 2021). Feeding future doctors: Universities work to alleviate food insecurity among medical students. AAMC.
Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN, et al. (November 2019). Addressing Food Insecurity in Medical Students.
Mike Bederka. (November 20, 2020). Now serving the Center City campus, the pantry helps students in need. The Nexus.