April 6, 2009 | The dietitian quizzed the college athlete about his diet habits. She then counseled him about how a low-fat diet could help counter his genetic predisposition to heart disease and what types of foods would be best.
It’s a scene that could play out at any college campus across the country. However in this case, the dietitian is an intern in the UAMS Department of Dietetics and Nutrition practicing her nutrition counseling skills. The dietetic internship is a joint program between UAMS and the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.
The student is an actor pretending to see the dietitian because his mom is concerned about his risk for developing heart disease based on family history.
The dietetics internship program has used the UAMS Clinical Skills Center for about 10 years to give students experience in the types of clinical situations they will see upon graduation. Following the consultation scenario, the actor, called a standardized patient, will give the student feedback about her ability to build rapport as well as communicate the detailed diet information.
Reza Hakkak, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition in the UAMS College of Health Related Professions, professor in the UAMS College of Public Health and an associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, said this scenario is not the usual case of a patient trying to lose weight or manage a chronic disease. In this case, the dietitian is providing guidance for preventing a future problem.
“We want our students to be aware of hidden factors that can cause disease,” Hakkak said. “They need to know to ask about family history.”
So much of a dietitian’s job involves communication, said Sherry Johnson, standardized patient coordinator for the Clinical Skills Center. The clinical skills exercises let those students practice their communications skills in a supervised setting, with instructors watching unobtrusively via closed circuit video.
This case also is unique because the standardized patient is younger than the average patient.
The dietetics interns spend 20-25 minutes with the standardized patient. They get a patient history and then review the diet guidelines.
“The key is being able to set appropriate, achievable goals,” Hakkak said. “They also must gain the patient’s trust, be non-judgmental, and then be sympathetic but emphasize the importance of the diet guidelines.”
The use of this patient scenario was just implemented two years ago by faculty of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition. It was implemented through a gift to the program from the Frank McGehee Memorial Fund.