By Wendy Sarubbi | April 18, 2017 4:23 pm

Four years since its opening, the student-run free KNIGHTS Clinic continues to be a leader in caring for Central Floridians with limited access to health care. And on April 10, the clinic received an inaugural innovation award from former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Activation Summit in Little Rock, AR.

The Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education recognizes health professional training programs that promote new ways to address obesity. The honor, a joint initiative of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, American College of Sports Medicine and Bipartisan Policy Center, is aimed at inspiring more schools to strengthen and promote training programs that tackle obesity, related chronic diseases and physical inactivity.

KNIGHTS (Keeping Neighbors In Good Health Through Service) was applauded for assessing, treating and counseling obese patients through education and promotion of lifestyle changes.

KNIGHTS, funded by The Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation, operates at Grace Medical Home twice a month under the supervision of volunteer and core faculty and local physicians. Students handle all aspects of the clinic – from making appointments and drawing blood to providing intensive patient education.

“All of our patients are without health insurance, many have not seen a physician in years, and all have incomes near the federal poverty line,” explained Ashley Brown, a fourth-year medical student and former KNIGHTS Clinic Director. “This not only makes access to healthy nutritious foods difficult, but getting advice on living a healthy lifestyle may be hard to come by for our patients.”

“The counseling that our patients receive at KNIGHTS can allow them to live a healthier, happier life and also help avoid the complications of obesity such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease without expensive and complicated medical management.”

Brown accepted the award from President Clinton who commended the clinic for its efforts.

The health alliance reports that fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. While 94 percent of physicians agree nutritional counseling should be a part of the visit with a patient, only 14 percent of doctors feel they have adequate training to do so, the alliance reports.

“This award is very significant because it shows one more time that the UCF College of Medicine is the forefront of innovation in education and service,” said Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, associate professor at the College of Medicine and medical director for the KNIGHTS Clinic.

“The bottom line is that lifestyle improvement works, whether we have obesity or not, to prevent disease both chronic and acute,” Dr. Pasarica said. “I think that other medical schools adopt this model because it has proven to be effective and provides advantages to both patients and students. So it’s a win-win for all.”

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