Risky health behaviors and social factors are linked to half of all causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Physicians report lack of training as one of the barriers to providing behavior change counseling. Formal behavior change curricula are infrequent in medical schools, and where they are available, they are often isolated from clinical experiences or presented through a limited approach. The authors developed the Health Beliefs and Behavior (HBB) course at University of Medicine and Dentistry–New Jersey Medical School (UMDNJ-NJMS) to teach the impact of unhealthy behaviors on health and wellness, to broaden students’ understanding of the many factors that affect behavior, and to give medical students tools to facilitate health behavior change in patients. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the only comprehensive, clinically integrated course on health behavior change in a U.S. medical school.
The authors intercalated the 60-hour HBB course in the four-week, third-year internal medicine clerkship ambulatory block. Thus, students practice learned techniques in both the ambulatory and classroom settings, and they gain insight into health behavior by applying learned health models to patients and engaging in experiential exercises. Course components stress the biopsychosocial and patient-centered approach. The authors measure the impact of the course through student surveys. Third-year medical students at UMDNJ-NJMS who have completed the HBB course report enhanced understanding of the principles of behavior change and improved ability to perform behavior change counseling.