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Mayo Clinic medical students learn about food as medicine from College of Health Solutions experts

September 6, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

A group of second-year Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine students felt like they were on the set of a cooking competition TV show on a recent August morning.

In reality, the nine students were in the kitchen at the College of Health Solutions on the Downtown Phoenix campus of Arizona State University. And while they spent five days in that kitchen chopping vegetables, sautéing meats and sampling exotic spices, they weren’t competing for cash, prizes or a spot on some Food Network show.

They were learning valuable nutrition and cooking skills that they hope to be able to pass on to patients when they’re practicing medicine.

In addition to spending time in the instructional kitchen under the direction of Health Solutions chef and kitchen coordinator Kent Moody, they attended lectures on nutrition presented by faculty from both ASU and Mayo Clinic. College of Health Solutions faculty taught on food as therapy (Professor Carol Johnston), the gut microbiome (Associate Professor Corrie Whisner), anti-inflammatory diets (Professor Dorothy Sears) and the pitfalls of processed foods (Clinical Professor Christy Alexon). Mayo Clinic faculty member Dr. Heather Fields (internal medicine) taught a session on plant-based diets.

“It’s a different perspective than we normally hear,” student Connor Lentz said. “We don’t have nutritionists come speak to us. They bring a different set of knowledge, different experiences.”

“A lot of medical professionals don’t understand nutrition all that well. We don’t get much of it in the classroom.”

The idea of providing future physicians with that perspective is what was behind this selective course when it was introduced in 2019. A selective is a one- to two-week block of time that enables the Mayo Clinic medical students to steer their education toward their specific interests. Johnston, professor of nutrition and an associate dean for faculty success at the College of Health Solutions, explained the selective came about through a Flinn Foundation grant.

Johnston said the grant included the charge of developing programs for medical students and doctors. Among the results are a one-year master’s degree program in medical nutrition (offered exclusively online) for health care professionals or students who plan to pursue a career in a medical profession.

“The master’s degree is not so much the science of nutrition — although everything is based on scientific evidence — but how you can apply it and provide nutrition information to patients,” Johnston said.

A graduate certificate in medical nutrition is in the development stage as well, with the goal of having it up and running in fall 2024.

The “Food as Medicine” selective is another component of that grant. It’s a short version of some of the things the students would learn in the longer medical nutrition degree program.

“Medical doctors, through the Flinn Foundation, said they wanted to support this because they didn’t know much about nutrition, and when patients would ask about it, they didn’t know how to answer,” Johnston said.

This course gives future doctors some new knowledge and practical tools in nutrition. 

Mira Shoukry, another of the medical students taking part in the program, said that kind of nutritional background was exactly what she was looking for.

“A lot of times for patients with chronic diseases, we might say something like, 'You need to eat a high-fiber diet,' or 'Cut carbs,' but we really don’t know how to explain in reasonable terms how to do that,” Shoukry said. “This selective helps us do that.”

Jess Qu, who was paired up with Shoukry to make an Indian-inspired meal that included roasted curried cauliflower, vegetable khichdi and pickled mangos, said she had been looking forward to this selective since she heard about it while interviewing for medical school.

Qu plans to focus on lifestyle medicine, and learning how to recommend healthy foods would be beneficial.

“(Lifestyle medicine) is a lot about using food to prevent and manage chronic diseases,” Qu said. “I think it’s important for future providers to learn how to cook and be able to explain things to our patients as well. It’s especially important to be able to explain things in ways that are actually reasonable to incorporate into their lifestyles.”

The week in the kitchen was also enjoyable, Qu said.

“I think it’s cool for us to learn different recipes and expand our arsenal of what we can cook,” she said. “I feel like I’m on a cooking competition show.”

Shoukry added that beyond the potential benefit for future patients of the week’s worth of lectures and demonstrations, there was a more immediate bonus: learning to cook healthy and tasty meals for themselves.

“At the end of the day, we’re also students with poor diets,” Shoukry said.

Top photo: Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine students (from right) Ramiro Lopez, James Kim, Demian Herrera and Jaxson Jeffery learned about nutrition during the "Food as Medicine" selective at ASU's College of Health Solutions. Photo by Weldon B. Johnson/ASU

Weldon B. Johnson

Communications Specialist , College of Health Solutions

ASU grad working in property development, keeping busy with community service

September 6, 2022

Arizona State University alumna Patrice Marcolla believes in the power of positive thinking. It’s what she credits with helping her get through college, pass challenging licensure exams and get into a profession in which she’s thriving.

And it’s the basis of advice she gives to others. Portrait of ASU alum Patrice Marcolla. Patrice Marcolla graduated magna cum laude in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, a minor in business from the W. P. Carey School of Business and honors from Barrett, The Honors College. Download Full Image

“Believe in the power of a positive mindset, which seems like a simple concept but is a challenging practice to adopt,” she said.

Marcolla graduated from ASU magna cum laude in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, a minor in business from the W. P. Carey School of Business and honors from Barrett, The Honors College.

“I put my energy into believing in myself, and it has changed the way I approach challenges. When I act with confidence, it results in a stronger performance. I credit this approach to helping me pass my three national interior design licensure exams (NCIDQ) shortly after I graduated," Marcolla said. "There is a high exam-failure rate on the first attempt, but I made up my mind to pass and I succeeded on my first try. Speak your goals into existence!”

After receiving her licensure, she worked as an interior designer for master-planned and multifamily communities across the United States for several years, taking on account executive, sales and marketing roles to expand business into new markets with development groups.

She transitioned into development and construction with IDM Companies in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she works in the pre-construction department, strengthening connections among ownership, development, construction and property management teams. 

She is active in the Urban Land Institute’s Young Leaders Group and Partnership Forum as a mentee group leader and serves as the committee chair for the local ULI2D council. She also is a member of the Multifamily/Affordable/Senior Housing (MASH) Local Product Council.

Working with Artlink, a Phoenix-based arts and culture organization, she represented the ULI2D program as a project manager for a mural installation at Arizona Public Service’s Evans Churchill Substation in downtown Phoenix.

She also designed and managed the Mahurin Room bar renovation for the 63rd Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, near Glendale, Arizona, in cooperation with Fighter Country Foundation's Luke Forward campaign. She volunteers with Barrett Honors College’s alumni group and the Sharp Construction and Girl Scouts of America's Girls Can Build initiative.

We caught up with Marcolla to get her thoughts on her experience at ASU and where she is now. Here’s what she had to say:

Question: Where did you grow up, and what brought you to ASU and Barrett, The Honors College?

Answer: I grew up in New Jersey and was looking for a new adventure for college. I applied to ASU for its renowned interior design program, within the context of a much bigger school and the opportunity for a well-rounded college experience (and escape from the cold winters back East). I was invited to apply to Barrett after applying to ASU and being the self-improvement junkie I am, loved the idea of getting a more robust education within the honors program.

Q: What are some of your favorite Barrett memories?

A: Naturally, the dining hallThe dining hall within the Barrett Honors College Tempe complex has a refectory that is referred to as the Harry Potter Room. was definitely a favorite part of my Barrett experience. I’m a Harry Potter nerd, too, so that space was a fun inspirational retreat from the classroom settings. I also just love how the honors campus feels like its own little world.

Q: Tell us about your career path. Did Barrett play a role in your development?

A: After working over five years as an interior designer, I transitioned into a career in commercial real estate development and construction. I credit Barrett for keeping me on an upward trajectory by maintaining a strong work ethic, pushing myself and provoking my competitive nature, and shaping me into a lifelong learner. The added responsibility of Barrett Honors, and the desire to prove to myself that I deserved the honors distinction, was a huge motivator in keeping me focused during college.

Q: What is on the horizon for you now?

A: I’m focused on my personal and professional growth. I’m learning as much as I can from my mentors and peers, and getting involved and taking on responsibilities to build my experience and grow my network. This means pushing the boundaries of my current role and gaining a greater perspective of the entire development process. Outside of my company, I’m involved in a number of professional organizations at different levels — leading community-oriented programs and participating in others. My long-term focus is on becoming an effective and influential leader.

Q: What advice do you have for ASU and Barrett alumni?

A: There’s nothing more valuable than human connection. I use the word “network” loosely because it was a daunting concept to me a few years back. But building relationships, creating space for vulnerability and belonging among people of different backgrounds, disciplines, career paths, etc. is the key to finding success and happiness.

Written by Alexandra Aragon, director of academic planning and retention at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU