Why Dietitians and Doctors Must Work Together

The state of nutrition education in medical schools is pretty grim, and several recent news stories have brought to light the reality of how little nutrition training med students receive. Several sources have stated that only 25% (one quarter!) of American medical schools offer the 25 hours of nutrition training that is recommended—but not required—by the National Academy of Science, with an average of just 17 hours completed.

In fact, a physician I work with just recently asked if his daughter, a medical student, could shadow me to make up for how little nutrition education she is learning in her med school curriculum.

Almost daily, my patients ask “why didn’t my doctor tell me this?” or “why did my doctor not know this?” I kindly remind patients that it is really not a primary care doctor’s job to know about the metabolic pathway responsible for fatty acid oxidation or about the process of ketosis—they have enough other information to learn! As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), however, it is my job and my area of expertise to know this information.

With the patient’s best interest in mind, physicians and dietitians must work together as a team, using the doctor’s expertise regarding the diagnosis and prognosis, using the lab values and outcomes and using the physician and pharmacists’ prescription knowledge to help the patient and vice versa. As a dietitian I feel privileged to be seen as part of the team, valued and appreciated for the knowledge I hold. Patients, doctors and populations all benefit from the outcomes of nutrition counseling and the focused expertise of a dietitian.

Health is truly an interdisciplinary entity, and the body is complex. As an integrative RDN I look at all areas, holistically– mind, body and spiritual health—they are all connected. And we know, everyone is a unique individual—and accordingly, there is no ‘one size fits all diet.’ As an RDN, I teach you about what good nutrition looks like physically and what it means intuitively—hence my business’ name, Nutrition-In-Sight. It’s not about being on “a diet.” Instead, it is about nurturing lifestyle, nourishing your life: it is about “your diet,” or simply understood as your eating habits and the food you consume.

Dr. David Eisenberg, Associate Professor of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and founder of Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Lives is quoted in this recent NPR story  as saying:
“I don’t think we could have predicted that health care professionals would need to know so much more about nutrition…Nor did we expect that we’d need to know more about movement and exercise or being mindful in the way we live our lives or eat or how to change behaviors.”

I believe RDNs have had this knowledge all along, and this is where we can step in to help the public and health professionals alike.