Mankato doctor recognized for nutrition work

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — For Dr. Ryan Brower, food is medicine.

Coming to Mankato three years ago, the family medicine resident at Mayo Clinic Health System’s Eastridge clinic brought a passion for nutrition with him.

He’s since centered his work both in clinic and the community around building people’s understanding of how healthy eating fits within a patient’s pursuit of overall wellness, the Mankato Free Press reported.

The work earned him state recognition this year, with the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians naming him the 2019 family medicine resident of the year.

Brower gave credit for the award to the residency program he’s in, and the people who advise and work alongside him.

“We have a really unique program and amazing faculty who create a really strong learning atmosphere,” he said.

He’ll soon finish his third and final year in residency at Eastridge. He’s one of 16 physicians in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Mankato Family Medicine Residency Program.

Brower got into medicine after seeing the rapport his father, an ophthalmologist, had with patients. While working at his dad’s clinic to gain experience, he remembers thinking how cool it was to see doctors connect with their communities.

In choosing a career path, the variety of family medicine appealed to him.

“I wanted to be able to see anyone of any age for any problem, and we get that broad training in family medicine,” he said.

He’ll start his post-residency career back home in Williams Bay in southern Wisconsin once he finishes in Mankato this month. The projects he threw himself into while in Mankato, however, will continue.

One he helped develop, a Food Rx program, has physicians screen patients for food insecurity. The doctors can then prescribe fresh foods to patients with chronic preventable diseases, knowing healthy eating is a valuable piece of the puzzle in treatment.

Brower worked with Blue Earth County’s Statewide Health Improvement Plan and the university’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education teams on the concept. The pilot will start with 25 patients or families who’ll pick up boxes of food and recipe tips at Cub Foods over six weeks, Brower said.

“The goal is to shift community members’ and patients’ attitudes toward the fact food is very important to our health,” he said.

The community garden he oversees outside Eastridge helps in this regard. It was established by a resident who preceded him, Dr. Heather Wells, but Brower took to it once she left.

The eight-plot garden is an excellent education piece, he said. After talking to patients about how healthy eating fits into overall wellness, he can walk them outside to get started with fresh fruits and veggies.

“It just makes that connection of where our food comes from,” he said. “It sends a really wonderful message.”

The garden has peas, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, herbs and more. Jennifer Pollitt, registered nurse care coordinator at Eastridge, said many patients wouldn’t otherwise be able to incorporate fresh produce in their diets without the garden.

“Because of their medical issues, they really need fresh fruits and vegetables, and this gives them the opportunity to use them without the cost,” she said.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show the percentage of households with limited ability to acquire nutritional foods is rising. Diets are also littered with added sugars, sodium and saturated fat. Americans also don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Brower said the medical community should take these trends seriously. The reasons go into the large role social determinants like food insecurity have on health outcomes.

“I think those social determinants of health are really powerful, and right now our health care system is more reactive,” he said. “I think it would be nice to see a shift toward more proactive, involving the community in our health and making sure people have access to healthy foods.”

Patients, Brower and the clinic’s care team tend to the garden between May and October. They were out recently planting and prepping for another season.

Mary Mittelstadt, one of Brower’s patients, tries to get out and weed at least a couple of times per month during the season. Living in an apartment, she said it’s nice to have a gardening opportunity right outside her clinic.

“I really appreciate it,” she said of her doctor’s interest in the garden. “This is the first place I’ve been a patient that’s had something like this.”

Brower hopes to see more community gardens spring up at clinics. He plans to explore building one to his next clinic, knowing the one at Eastridge will be left in good hands.


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