Career Growth in the Field of Nutrition
with Angelina Maia, PhD, RD, LD
Dr. Angelina Maia is a Registered Dietitian with over 18 years of experience in the field of nutrition. She currently serves as the MSAN Assistant Director/Director of RDN Focus. Here she talks about trends and areas of growth and opportunity for people looking to work in the field of nutrition.
What career path do our Applied Nutrition students take after completing their classes?
It’s very individualized. The students who were Registered Dietitians prior to entering the program and who have earned this degree are finding it very useful in developing research and education skills that they can use in their work settings.
Students from diverse backgrounds who are interested in wellness and nutrition counseling have pursued the Certified Nutrition Specialist credential after completing the degree requirements and additional clinical rotations.
Other students have utilized the degree to develop health and wellness programs, held roles as corporate wellness consultants, and worked in management as Food Service Directors or at non-profit agencies.
How would you summarize the UNE MS in Applied Nutrition program?
The 100% online Master of Science in Applied Nutrition is a rigorous two-year program that emphasizes evidence-based practice. The program is designed for students to apply the knowledge they are attaining in the courses to real-world settings.
There are optional focus areas to help students specialize, as well. Students can take courses that are relevant to their career plans and professional development, including the newly ACEND® accredited RDN focus area, which leads to a verification statement and the ability to sit for the RDN exam.
The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) is an autonomous accrediting agency for education programs preparing students for careers as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs).
Programs meeting the rigorous ACEND® Accreditation Standards are accredited by ACEND®.
Are there any particular sectors or geographic areas that you’d expect to see growth in the nutrition field in the next five or ten years?
Jobs as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist are growing at a much faster rate than the national average. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are valued members of the healthcare team in outpatient and inpatient settings, and may practice privately as well. RDNs also act as nutrition counselors and nutrition educators in a variety of settings such as schools and universities, and federally-funded programs such as WIC and SNAP-Ed.
I believe there are several areas in the nutrition field that have growth potential, whether students pursue a clinical degree or not. One area is sustainability. People are concerned about our planet and are interested in finding safe, sustainable methods for growing food. Food access and food security are also related to sustainable food systems and practices.
Another area is personalized nutrition. People are wanting lifestyle changes rather than quick, short-term diets. Health At Every Size® is a movement within the nutrition field that is gaining traction. It is a movement away from diets with a focus on intuitive eating, finding joy in eating, and physical activity.
A third area includes clinical practice in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, especially with the aging population. Clinical work in nutrition typically requires the RDN or other professional credentials.
There is a new approach to long-term care called The Greenhouse Project. These are facilities that are constructed so they closely resemble a home. Each resident has their own individual room, and they share a huge living area with big gas fireplaces and comfortable chairs. Clinical staff are trained in cooking techniques and are able to prepare foods that the resident requests at any point in the day. This offers opportunities for patients to eat what they like and will promote health and overall good nutrition.
Additionally, there are lots of emerging opportunities for both RDNs and those with an MS in Applied Nutrition in the digital and telehealth and health informatics sectors. This growing field merges clinical skills with best practices in technology to improve the quality of treatment for each individual.
Moving forward, there are going to be many new and exciting opportunities for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists to work across the public and private sectors to improve the health of their communities.
Why do you think that the field of nutrition is expanding so quickly?
The profession has become recognized for the important contributions nutrition can make in health promotion, preventative care, health, and wellness. The role of the RDN in the clinical setting is invaluable, providing nutrition assessment and care to critical patients, as well as helping those at-risk for critical illnesses improve their health through nutrition.
RDNs connect with patients in a way different from other clinicians. They work toward forming long-lasting and supportive relationships with clients to manage their health and nutrition needs.
How do Registered Dietitians work with patients to affect behavior change?
There are many ways RDNs can help promote health behavior change. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a way of having an empathetic conversation about change and helping the client work through their ambivalence around making that change.
More RDNs are becoming trained in MI techniques, and are learning how to listen differently, so we can hear where our patient wants to be and what their goals are. MI helps us step away from our “expert instinct” to give information. Expressing accurate empathy and building a trusting relationship allows the patient to feel safe and comfortable and to share their thoughts and feelings more readily. This supports behavior change by allowing the client to take charge of what goals are attainable.
Nutrition education is also a critical component of working to promote health, and it is necessary to explore the theory and practice of behavior change to best support each individual client. Nutrition education is employed in a variety of settings and across the lifespan to help facilitate good health and nutrition.
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