There are some exciting changes coming to nutrition and dietetics education.
Several years ago, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics initiated an environmental scan including a comprehensive review of more than 100 relevant articles detailing research data, industry trends and changes in health care and business — as well as collected more than 10,000 responses from practitioners, employers, educators, students, administrators and professionals working with nutrition and dietetics practitioners. All of this information revealed gaps between current competencies and expected practice in nutrition and dietetics in the future.
There is an expected expanding scope of practice for those working in the profession, including an increased focus on disease prevention and integrative health care and the need for more knowledge in emerging areas such as genomics, telehealth, behavioral counseling, diet prescription and informatics. This requires health care professionals to work more interprofessionally. Additionally, practitioners need to be able to read and apply scientific information and interpret this knowledge for the public.
Many stakeholders identified gaps in current competencies in the areas of research, leadership/management skills, cultural care, basic food and culinary preparation, and sustainability. Employers indicated the need for improved communication skills among nutrition and dietetics practitioners and an improved ability to understand patients’ communities and cultural environments.
Employers also expressed a desire for stronger organizational leadership, project management, communication, patient assessment and practice skills. Employers indicated that more time might be needed in the preparation of future nutrition and dietetics practitioners to ensure application of knowledge and demonstration of skills needed for effective practice.
After thorough review of this data, ACEND believes a minimum of a master’s degree is needed to adequately prepare graduates with the complexity, depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and judgment needed for future practice as a registered dietitian nutritionist — aligning with the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s January 1, 2024, requirement that applicants taking the Registration Examination for Dietitians will need a master’s degree.
The end result was the 2017 release of the Future Education Model Accreditation Standards, with an enhanced focus on competency-based education.
In a nutshell, competency based education is personalized learning. Students advance based on their own skills and abilities by working at their own pace rather than a timeline set by the program — allowing students to spend more time on tasks they find challenging and less time on those they find easier to learn. Competency-based education offers opportunities for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned through various forms of experiential learning — such as simulations, role playing, case studies and practice in actual work settings — and gives educators greater opportunity to assess progress throughout the program and, when necessary, offer more timely remediation.
This student-centered learning model provides flexibility to accommodate evolving competencies, such as conducting a nutrition-focused physical exam — a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s appearance and function, including visual, auditory and olfactory observations, biometrics and hands-on examination — as well as mentoring others, applying critical thinking skills, describing nutritional genomics and analyzing risk in nutrition and dietetics practice.
While adoption of the Future Education Model currently is not required, ACEND has begun accrediting demonstration programs under these standards and will collect outcomes data from these programs, graduates and employers before making decisions about implementation of the standards.
To learn more about the demonstration program process, benefits offered to demonstration programs and competency-based education and assessment, visit eatrightPRO.org/FutureModel.