On technology, mentoring, self-styled “experts” – and focusing on our professional strengths

[“As dietitians] we need to absolutely focus on our strengths, which are our scientific training and our ability to synthesize and translate nutrition information. That’s a badge we should be wearing proudly.”
                                    –Prof. Clare Collins

What do you do when your client says, “I follow a low kilojoule diet – but still can’t lose weight?”

If you were in attendance at Dietitian Day, you were lucky enough to hear directly from an esteemed source with a thoughtful, evidence-based response to this question – presenter Clare Collins.

Clare is a Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics in the School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health & Medicine and Deputy Director of the Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle. A noted media go-to spokesperson on dietary topics, she has also published over 230 manuscripts. Her main research examines the impact of interventions to improve dietary intake, and how this relates to changes in weight and health across all ages and stages of life.

In addition to being a featured presenter at Dietitian Day, Clare was kind enough to take the time for a Q & A with us on current dietary topics. Here are the highlights from our conversation, featuring her reflective, in-depth and considered responses.

Dietitian Connection: What’s the most critical challenge facing the world of dietetics at the moment? What would your solution be?

Prof. Clare Collins: The biggest challenge is achieving an equal voice for nutrition and dietetics. Sometimes the louder voice is from people with no nutrition training: we’ve seen the rise in the media of the self-styled nutrition expert who knows zip. Our biggest challenge does not come from within the profession, but from unqualified people outside the profession.

The solution is that we come back to our strong scientific training. We should focus on delivering evidence-based advice with a united voice,but also take the really important step of translating the evidence to plain language. We should also strive to come up with practical solutions that do work for people, relative to their health or medical conditions.

We need to absolutely focus on our strengths, which are our scientific training and our ability to synthesize and translate nutrition information. That’s a badge we should be wearing proudly.

DC: There is debate as to whether or not we should focus on weight in nutritional management of clients. What is your position?

CC: It depends on the reason why the client is referred, whether it’s relevant to their diagnosis and why they are seeking your professional advice. If someone is coming to see you for weight loss, then it would make sense that weight loss is likely to be one of the goals they are seeking. If someone is referred to you to improve diet quality, for example Type 2 Diabetes management, it’s likely that you’ll be focused on the key elements of their dietary intake. Equally for cardiovascular disease: you’re likely to be targeting specific dietary manipulations.

So one of the key things and strengths of us as a profession is that we are able to individually tailor the dietary approach to the clients’ health and medical needs. To me, that’s an essential and a fundamental – providing medical nutrition therapy.

DC: You have embraced “smart technology” as you work to educate on healthy eating – including your online Healthy Eating Quiz and the recently launched Australian Eating Survey. How do you find time to stay current on the latest technology tools to use for communicating public health messages?

CC: One of the biggest things that I do,andprioritise, in my time: is to speak up on nutrition in the media world.

I use technology myself, and I try to think from the way that a client would think: they are time poor but want access to high quality information. We’ve done many studies of various segments of the population, in terms of what they want from technology and what they want from our profession, and the key barriers come up, no matter who that population is – people are time poor, or they don’t have access to dietitians. So my team and I have worked very hard to come up with ways to engage people in receiving high-quality advice.

Here’s a key issue for dietitians. Say we want to assess someone’s dietary intake comprehensively, and compare it to the NRVs. Up until we produced the online Australian Eating Survey, it would essentially have taken three lots of time – an initial evaluation of intake, a separate pot of time for the dietitian to go away and analyse the intake and interpret it, and a third lot of time with the client to explain what the results of that report were and what they mean.

In this day and age, that’s not fast enough. As a profession, in the current generation, we deserve to have tools that make us more able to engage our clients – and cut to the chase, in terms of helping them with the assessment and then behaviour change.

The lack of technology tools has really limited the scope of what we can provide within the time that our clients have available – and I think we’re only at the very beginning of this technology journey.

DC:  What advice do you have for dietitians who are keen to utilise technology to reach masses and bring about positive change? 

CC: I think it is important to actually engage and connect with dietitians working in that technology space. For example, anybody who is on Twitter or writing their own blogs is likely to already to be following the key opinion leaders within our profession. That’s the first step for those wanting to remain up to date in that domain.

But the second step is – and I’ve suggested this to our members before – there are two groups in our profession who need to get together, and it could be around the context of a mentoring relationship. Our newest graduates are technology-savvy, but they don’t yet have the professional wisdom or experience to deliver content the way a more experiences practitioner would. Whereas, many of the more experience practitioners aren’t necessarily as technology savvy.

My challenge would be to make technology and technology communication part of the mentoring relationships that are fostered within the DAA. Both the mentor and mentee would come off better, and learn more.

The bottom line is, don’t be scared – engage. If you’re already engaged, ask for advice from someone who has more professional expertise.

DC: Can you share with us a favourite online resource you turn to for inspiration?

CC: The Conversation – it’s academics translating their expertise to an online newspaper. Whether it’s health or medicine, or science, or even politics, it’s a really wonderful resource.

I find it’s also a nice window on the world – you get to leap into the USA, Africa or UK conversation, and if I could speak French, I’d look at the French conversation as well!

I’m a committed contributor there, as are many other dietitians. You can translate your nutrition science to practical advice for the readers. 

 

Editor – Laura Byrne