Gillian Hecht, SOM Class of 2024, Blends Her Passions of Medicine and Cooking at NYMC
Ms. Hecht earned a culinary certificate during her first year of medical school and helped create a culinary medicine area of concentration at NYMC.
Gillian Hecht, School of Medicine (SOM) Class of 2024, has two longstanding passions: medicine and cooking. Throughout her life--she relied on her hobby of cooking to decompress, but upon her acceptance into medical school--she decided to take it to the next level and earned a culinary certificate from the Kosher Culinary Center in Brooklyn during the summer leading into her second year. Dedicated to intertwining her two interests, she helped lead the way in establishing the Culinary Medicine Club and an Area of Concentration at New York Medical College (NYMC) SOM for those with similar interests.
“I don’t think food and medicine are really so different. They’re both forms of caring for the most basic human needs, they combine art and science, they require focus and precision but thrive on creativity and innovation,” said Ms. Hecht. “To me, it makes total sense that I always wanted to do both.”
Culinary skills run in the family for Ms. Hecht, who says she grew up in the kitchen. “My mom is a fantastic cook and former caterer, so I started cooking for a crowd with her at a young age,” she said.
Ms. Hecht’s love for cooking followed her through high school, her undergraduate studies and now at NYMC. It was the moment she was accepted into NYMC that she thought about her “what-if” activities and how she had limited time to complete them before medical school began to require most of her time. “Within 48 hours, I went part-time at my biomedical research job and enrolled at the Kosher Culinary Center in Brooklyn,” she said.
Ms. Hecht began her certificate program in January 2020, when she began to hone her culinary skills and see the industry in a new light. “I learned to think in a completely new way,” she said. “I loved the dynamic and high-intensity environment of the professional kitchen.”
As Ms. Hecht progressed in her culinary program, she enjoyed the approach, which was both theoretical but with ample opportunities to be hands-on—the same reason she enjoys her medical education at NYMC. Ms. Hecht appreciated the multi-faceted approach to culinary education and she often relates it her studies in medical school. She eventually became part of a small group of first-year medical students who formed an interest group in culinary medicine, with hopes of making it an Area of Concentration. One year later, it became a reality.
“At NYMC, students are so valued and encouraged to pursue their unique interests. What started as a group of four passionate first-year medical students has turned into a bustling student organization and Area of Concentration Program piloted in the summer of 2021,” Ms. Hecht said. The program is designed to provide elective opportunities for medical students who wish to pursue an area of personal interest in depth during their studies beyond the required medical education.
Ms. Hecht says that the main goal of the group is to integrate formal nutrition and culinary education with basic and clinical sciences so that future physicians can deliver culturally competent, evidence-based nutrition care—regardless of specialty. “The school has championed our belief that food is the best medicine and has pushed us to follow our dreams,” she said.
Now in her second year of medical school, Ms. Hecht hopes not only to continue to tie together her two longstanding passions but build a system for others who have the same interest in how food can affect someone’s health.
“I have found that at NYMC, my “what-if’s” don’t have to be separate from my passion for medicine; it really is possible to do it all,” she said.