American Society For Nutrition

Interview with ASN Member and Medical Student Elizabeth Ko

Interview with ASN Member and Medical Student Elizabeth Ko

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice

Getting to Know: Elizabeth Ko
Medical Student and ASN Student Interest Group Leader


Elizabeth Ko has the best of both worlds. “Clinical nutrition,” she explains, “is the ultimate intersect of my two loves of food and medicine.” After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Physiology, Ko worked as a professional cook in several of LA's most-coveted restaurants. Now as a third-year medical student at the University of Miami School of Medicine, she has the opportunity to combine her “unassuming love for cooking” with her “conviction that food is a ubiquitous force that, like medicine, offers healing and nourishment.”

Ko became a member of ASN during her first year of medical school after learning about the Clinical Nutrition Internship Program (CNIP). During her eight-week rotation, Ko was mentored by Dr. George Blackburn, Director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Blackburn, who now serves on ASN's Sub-Committee For Continuing Medical Education, guided Ko as she rotated through the Harvard hospitals, an experience she calls, “Incredibly rewarding … unquestionably, the highlight of my academic career.” During her internship, Ko uncovered some of the many faces of clinical nutrition including bariatric surgery, obesity medicine, weight management, nutrition support, pediatric obesity, celiac disease, and diabetes education.

In 2008, Ko became a member and student leader of ASN's Student Interest Group (SIG), which, as its title suggests, focuses on furthering the interests of the organization's student members and encouraging their participation in activities that maximize their nutrition science education. Ko also serves as a student representative on ASN's Graduate Professional Education Committee (GPEC), which she points out, “Consists of experienced clinicians and scientists dedicated to enhancing nutrition knowledge through continuing medical education and developing educational resources to incorporate nutrition education into the medical school curriculum.”

In addition to these exciting commitments, Ko is preparing to present at a session on food safety at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., on March 13. Fortunately, Ko was kind enough to take time away from her busy schedule to talk with us a little about her upcoming session as well as her experience as an ASN member.

When asked to discuss the advantages of her membership, Ko is ebullient. “The networking opportunities are endless,” she says. “We are so fortunate that ASN members represent the brightest minds in the field and, more importantly, are enthusiastic to mentor young professionals like myself. … ASN leaders acknowledge that nutrition has a distinct role in clinical practice that cannot be ignored. To belong to a community of likeminded individuals who share the similar vision is unmistakably the most valuable perk of being an ASN student member.”

Ko is similarly excited about her forthcoming AMSA presentation and its potential implications for ASN members. The symposium, which is sponsored by ASN, is titled “Establishing a Safer Food Supply: A National and Global Health Priority.” The session proposes a national physician education campaign as a strategy to reduce the incidence of food-related illnesses. The session is something that Ko encourages ASN members to be passionate about--not just as physicians, but also as consumers themselves. “We are all directly affected by the policies governing the growth, processing, distribution, and regulation of the food supply,” she tells us. In order to address the gaps in the current food safety system Ko proposes that we need to encourage the continual development of safety practices that extend the entire length of the food supply chain or, as Ko puts it, “from the farm to the table.”

It is obvious from our short conversation with Ko that she is a passionate and dedicated member of ASN who will be an asset to the organization for years to come. And what does Ko foresee for herself and for the field of nutrition in those years?

“My heart rests in primary care and more specifically, in lifestyle interventions and non-pharmacologic approaches to the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease are, in their most elemental form, manifestations of nutrition gone terribly astray. Advocacy is sorely needed for nutrition education programs and public health campaigns to re-learn one of humanity's most primitive instincts: how to eat, and how to do so mindfully and tastefully."