Promoting Healthy Behaviour Choices: Understanding Patient Challenges by Undertaking a Personal Behaviour Change Task
INTRODUCTION: Unhealthy behaviours such as poor diet, smoking and physical inactivity contribute significantly to chronic disease. Our first year medical school project aims to increase student awareness of: the importance of these behaviours and their systematic measurement; recommended behaviour targets in health professional guidelines; challenges in achieving patient behaviour change; and psychological theories which aid behaviour change.
METHODS: Students are provided with evidence-based health behaviour guidelines for prevention of heart disease. Students select whichever behaviour they would personally like to achieve improvement in, systematically record behaviour for one week (baseline), and then try to implement (healthy) behaviour change for the next two weeks, using psychological theory as an aide. Students report their results and discuss outcomes reflecting on explanations for the success or otherwise of their behaviour attempts. A virtual learning environment (Moodle) ensures project engagement and completion during the relevant timeframes.
RESULTS: This assignment has been successfully completed by students over previous academic years. The use of deadlines for uploading sections of coursework to Moodle (e.g. baseline data) has increased the quality and completeness of the projects. Students learn to use standard instruments such as the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence and also learn recommended professional guidelines on diet and physical activity at an early point in a medical training. Also, self-reported health behaviours improved over the course of the assignment.
CONCLUSIONS: This project allows students to test the difficulty of adhering to professional advice they themselves will give to future patients. The assignment combines knowledge (e.g. education on chronic conditions, on the role of behaviour change and on professional guidelines), skills (e.g. documenting behaviours, planning and implementing change) and attitudes (e.g. on understanding the difficulties encountered by individuals when making and sustaining recommended behaviour change). The novel use of a virtual learning environment ensures high participation.