Exercise As Medicine:

Larner Student's Pilot Course Gets Future Doctors Moving


April 13, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

Medical students practice proper form for squatting
In the UVM varsity weight room, Alex Jenkins (far right) assists medical students performing squats with elastic bands creating resistance around their legs. 

As a soccer athlete, strength and conditioning coach, and neuroscience scholar, Alex Jenkins fully understands the value of regular physical activity for good health and mental wellbeing. As a rising fourth-year medical student, she’s also aware of how difficult it is to maintain an exercise routine amid a rigorous academic and work schedule, especially for those who don’t have a sports and fitness background. Jenkins is on track to change this dilemma with a new curriculum she created for first-year medical students at the Larner College of Medicine.

This spring, Jenkins launched “Exercise As Medicine,” an optional, four-week curriculum to complement topics discussed in the Foundations Level course Nutritional Metabolism, and Gastrointestinal Systems (NMGI). Twelve students participated, along with Lee-Anna Burgess, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and NMGI course director, and Jenkins’ faculty mentor.
Students practice proper form for hip hinges
Medical students follow along as Alex Jenkins demonstrates hip hinges in the UVM varsity weight room. 

During weekly evening sessions at the UVM Patrick Gymnasium varsity weight room or at CrossFit Burlington, the participants learned about strength training, aerobic capacity and endurance, motivational interviewing, mobility, and injury prevention. Each session included a didactic session and practical component during which participants learned and practiced proper form for fundamental movements such as squatting, hinging from hips, pushing and pulling in vertical and horizontal directions, and core work. They discussed how these movements show up in daily life activities — for example, sitting down, standing up, pushing a cart, picking up objects —  and the importance of learning them for every age group and patient population.

The curriculum’s purpose is to provide future physicians with training in movement and exercise and to empower them to discuss exercise with their patients: “I want to help medical students incorporate exercise into their lives, and into their patients’ lives,” Jenkins said. “There’s evidence that physicians who practice good exercise habits and keep themselves active have better outcomes for their patients."

Jenkins recently completed a research year after her third year of medical school to develop the pilot course, with an aim to incorporate it permanently into the Foundations Level curriculum. Participating faculty include David Kaminsky M.D., professor of medicine, Richard Pinckney, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, Marc Hickock, CSCS, FMS, UVM director of athletic performance, and Matthew Lunser D.O., team physician for UVM.

Jenkins’ inspiration for the course stems from her experience as a medical student struggling to fit in exercise among coursework and clinical rotations. A longtime student-athlete, Jenkins played for and captained the UVM Women’s Soccer team while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. After graduating in 2017, Jenkins worked as a physical therapy assistant and strength and conditioning and CrossFit coach. Now, as a Larner medical student, Jenkins is an assistant coach for UVM Women’s Soccer and a coach at CrossFit Burlington. She’s using these resources to create the course and share her knowledge with her peers, many of whom don’t know how to exercise appropriately or what movements to recommend.

“I feel I don’t know enough about how exercise affects the body and health,” said participating student Ian Minearo ’26. Participant Briana Leger ’26 explained further: “Many doctors haven’t received training in exercise, nutrition, and holistic ways of taking care of yourself. I’m looking forward to learning about different varieties of exercise, and to be able to explain it to future patients.”

The Exercise As Medicine curriculum is proposed for Class of 2027 students in spring 2024.


Alex Jenkins works with students learning proper form for bending forward

Alex Jenkins (far right) assists medical students learning how to safely bend forward, so that they can inform their future patients.