By Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS
As registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), we know we are the nutrition experts. We undergo training exclusively in nutrition science and the skills required to practice nutrition in a variety of professional settings. As confident as RDNs are in their nutrition expertise, it can be surprising to face situations in clinical settings where that expertise is called into question, not acknowledged, or not valued by our patients. This can be for a variety of reasons:
- Patients do not know the difference between a RDN and a nutritionist
- Patients receive nutrition information from sources that are popular but not based in science
- Patients receive nutrition information from other healthcare professionals that conflicts with the information you provide
- Patients think they already know everything they need to know about nutrition
- Patients think you are just there to give them a diet plan
- Patients have tried dieting, failed in the past, and are leery of listening to you
- Patients think you are there to take their meal order
Regardless of your clinical setting and who your patient population is, you need to be able to promote yourself as the nutrition expert effectively. If you are not viewed as the nutrition expert, you will not be able to help your patients use nutrition to improve their health—the ultimate goal of all RDNs.
Promoting yourself is not about having a certain bubbly or talkative personality. Promoting yourself is rooted in confidence in yourself and what you have to offer. Here are some practical steps for promoting yourself as the nutrition expert to your patients in any clinical setting:
Introduce yourself fully.
Instead of just saying your name and title, also say what you are there to do. For example, “Hi Mrs. Jones. My name is Courtney and I am the registered dietitian on this floor. I am here today to check on you and evaluate your nutrition status here in the hospital.” Now you have helped the patient know what to expect.
Listen for hesitation.
This can often be detected during the nutrition interview. A patient may ask, “Why do you need to know that?” This gives you an opportunity to explain what correlations you are looking for between their health and nutrition status.
Address push back with evidence.
Stay rooted and confident in evidence–based practices. For example, if a patient with diverticulosis says, “My doctor said I can no longer have anything with seeds,” just simply state that avoiding seeds is not evidenced–based and we know now that fiber intake is more important to focus on. Don’t ignore the statement or get defensive—just state facts.
Before speaking with your patient, know what nutritionally relevant conditions they have and what direction the conversation needs to go. Research and review anything about which you are uncertain ahead of time.
Use additional resources.
Don’t ask patients to simply take your word for it. Provide additional sources showing the evidence behind the nutrition recommendations when needed.
In the end, you may still have patients who choose not to listen to you or believe that what you are saying is accurate. Do not take that personally; just do your part to promote RDNs as the nutrition experts and eventually, collectively, we can be seen by our patients as the nutrition experts we are.
Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT, CFCS consults locally with Dietitians On Demand and also has a virtual private practice, Kitchen Nutrition, LLC. Courtney enjoys equipping dietitians and dietetic interns with the tools they need for professional success so they don’t have to learn the hard way. Courtney enjoys baking, running, and hosting friends and family in her home.
Find her on Instagram @yourkitchennutrition.
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