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Opening a Door to New Opportunity

OD becomes first in the profession to earn certification in culinary medicine

When Meghna Lilaram, OD, joined the team at Parkland Community Hospital in Dallas, Texas, in 2011, it opened her eyes to specific needs for patient education. “Community health brought about my interest for health and education resources for people who don’t have any. Food insecurity is a big one,” she says. Eager to dive in, she found there were few opportunities for optometrists in this area to further their knowledge in this area.

Dr. Lilaram never stopped looking. At a 2019 diabetes-focused conference, she learned about Health Meets Food, a culinary medicine and certification program that provides training to help health care providers have more meaningful conversations about food and health with patients. She says that she was thrilled to find this organization, which has a primary partner of George Washington University, as well as programming from more than 50 medical schools and hospital-based residency programs across the United States. But there was a roadblock: “ODs weren’t even allowed to enter the certification.”

Dr. Lilaram wrote to the Culinary Medicine Specialist board in January 2020, petitioning them to consider optometry, and her outreach was a success. By March 2020, the program opened up to optometrists. The courses and cooking classes required for certification were enjoyable Zoom interactions, as she learned new skills, recipes and approaches to take with patients. Dr. Lilaram took her exam for the program in August and became a certified culinary medical specialist in September, becoming the first optometrist to do so.

The timing couldn’t have been more right on target. “Especially during COVID-19, our goals have changed, and we may not have the budget that we used to,” Dr. Lilaram says. This program allows her to offer advice with a real food, real world approach, which she says is more attainable than some nutrition programs that come with a hefty price tag. “No one is perfect all of the time, but this gives people a less daunting approach to help their health.” Read more advice from her on a conversational approach.

SPREAD YOUR KNOWLEDGE

With her certification, Dr. Lilaram has the confidence to share her passion for healthy eating and education with other health care professionals in addition to patients. She’s been asked to give several presentations on healthy ideas that are approachable and manageable to the staff at her own hospital as well as in other organizations.

She encourages her colleagues who are interested in this area to consider earning their own certification, adding that COPE eligibility will vary per state. Some employers may even be willing to cover the cost of the certification. “Nutrition is becoming a bigger part of practices, and it’s a good avenue especially now with coronavirus,” Dr. Lilaram says. “Food is medicine, and this is a great way to learn how important nutrition is for the body and how you can carry that knowledge on to your friends, family, patients and colleagues.”

Learn more at culinarymedicine.org.

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