Some interesting discussion and debate occurred during our first live online discussion forum on Thursday evening.  Thanks to everyone who joined in the inaugural discussion!


For those who couldn’t tune in, below is a quick snapshot of some of the discussion. 


Three questions posed included:

1. How can we easily and effectively communicate to the public about “who we are” and “what we do”?   

2. How can we better connect with the public and our clients?

3.  How do we as a profession need to change?


Chris Irwin commented that we need to be clear on “who we are” and “what we do” as a profession.  In order to do this, I believe we need to understand the perspective of our clients and community at large.  At the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane we are in the middle of conducting discovery interviews, a UK NHS qualitative research methodology.  Trained interviewers are meeting with people with diabetes in their homes and asking them to describe their personal story or journey with the health care system, including their experiences with dietitians.  The purpose of the interviews is to understand people’s perceptions of us as dietitians so that we might improve our client relationships, overall service and health outcomes.  So we are trying to answer the exact question David Borradale asked – what do people actually feel and think when they hear the word dietitian?


Chris Irwin also mentioned “Lauren Ball’s work on community members’ perceptions of health professionals that may/can/do provide nutrition information. A strong theme in the qualitative study was the frustration that individuals feel when they don’t understand the roles of these health professionals regarding nutrition, and don’t feel informed as to how to best select a health professional that will meet their needs (noted, that this forum is assuming that dietitians are best suited to meet the needs of all Australians…this in itself is another topic for debating)”  (Agree Chris!)


Once we are clear on who we are and what we do, Ingrid Hickman stated “There needs to be a broad education re: who we are and what we can achieve for people. Not sure if this has to be done top down through the association or bottom up from individual dietitians/groups??”  I suggest it’s probably both.


From a slightly different perspective, if you read my personal story last week, you will know that I have become a big believer in the power of story telling. I think as dietitians we need to move away from facts and figures and to connect with our clients emotionally through stories.   Below is a quote from the Lean In website

“Studies show that we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures. However, when data and story are used together, audiences are moved both emotionally and intellectually.  Harnessing the power of stories will enable you to be more persuasive, move people to action, and progress into your career.” 


Tara Diversi says it well “When dietitians stop focusing on what they do, how they do it and why they do it they will be more effective in engaging their clients. In dietetic training we miss the one thing that other professions grasp well, they advertise the BENEFITS, RESULTS, OUTCOMES. This starts to link with values and emotions, and are the reasons people ‘buy’.


Olivia Wright responded “Do you think our profession has a clear understanding of what our outcomes with patients should be? Which ones are we predominantly focusing on? Those only supported by evidence? What should we be focusing on more? Should we be looking to how we make our patients feel? How motivated we leave them and how confident they are to take on our advice? Do we ever try to measure that?”  Food for thought Olivia!


Chris Irwin reminded us that “we need to be careful about using the word ‘expert’ all the time when we refer to ourselves. It immediately provides a connotation to patients that we know more than them about food, and while that may or may not be true, to provide true patient-centred care that meets the needs of clients you need to recognise that a patient is as equal of an expert in their life, their feelings, their desires, motivation, etc.”


There was some debate amongst the group about whether we should use the term “expert”.  Kelli Hale responded “I think we need to still be the experts of nutrition but when it comes to diet then this needs to be a team effort as the patient knows themselves better than anyone .. if we don’t acknowledge their beliefs, experience etc then it would be almost impossible to engage with them re behaviour change .. would be kind of like being the food nazi/police telling them what to do .. not much trust or rapport there – just lots of resistance .. I strongly believe we need to change the way we communicate/work with our clients .. I agree we need to change our image eg slogan, name change ..”  Nicole Micallef has proposed a few slogans for us on the forum – check them out and see what you think.


To conclude, Cherie Hugo states “we need to roll our sleeves up more – have an inquisitive mind at all times in our work. It also helps to have passion – if you don’t have it for your area of dietetics, look elsewhere for a nutrition topic/issue that sparks fire in your belly. A message communicated by a passionate person is hard to ignore. Someone mentioned that our messages aren’t “sexy” – that’s probably because they have been delivered without the spark of passion.


Collaboration with others (the more diverse the mix of people the better) is also a hugely untapped area of potential that would be great to explore and offer through the tertiary education process to help us train and deliver dietitians into the community who are lateral thinkers – those who are equipped to think out of the circle to help develop new ways to tackle old problems.”


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