The Nutrition Diagnostics Dietetic Internship Program makes its debut

Story by Kyle DeVries

This fall, the Nutrition Diagnostics Dietetic Internship (DI) program made its debut at Cox College. The ten-and-a-half month program prepares students for specialty and advanced practice in Nutrition Diagnostics. Additionally, should a student desire a Master’s degree in Nutrition Diagnostics, one year in the DI program will count as Master’s level curriculum and can cut down on classroom time. The preexisting Master’s degree program at Cox College takes 22 months to complete and has a focus on clinical experiences, while the internship program maintains a broader focus on community health and prevention. Students in the internship move to different rotation sites to best diversify their educational experiences.

Brittany Carpenter and Jordan Mize are Cox College alumnae and current Clinical Dietetic Preceptors in the Cox College Dietetic Internship.

“Prevention is going be our main focus,” Carpenter said.

Right now, many dietitians walk into patients’ rooms with the news that they need to change their diet after experiencing a heart attack or being diagnosed with a serious illness. A central focus of the DI program is to change how dietitians communicate with patients. The aim is for dietitians to educate people on how they can avoid these issues before they happen.

Unlike similar programs offered nationwide, Cox College’s DI program takes a unique approach that teaches nutrition at a deeper level, with an increased focus on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and in-depth physical exams.

“After I graduated, dietitians who had been in the field for years often asked me how to do a physical exam because they were never taught how. As a recent graduate and an entry-level dietitian, I knew as much or more than experienced dietitians,” Mize said.

This revelation highlights the key differences between the Cox College program and those offered elsewhere.

“Cox College students are taught to assess muscle mass, lips, eyes, and other parts of the body for deficiencies,” Carpenter explained. “Other programs across the country are teaching dietetic students how to go in and provide a supplement.”

Students are spending time in clinics, grocery stores, and public gardens to gain community-related experiences.

“We’re sending students into venues that have never had dietitians on-staff to show them what we bring to the table,” Carpenter said. “We want to prove that dietitians are needed. Our hope is that they won’t want us to leave so they add dietitians to their staff.”

Springfield is home to several self-sufficient community gardens whose produce goes directly to stores and markets in the area. One of those gardens is located across the street from Cox North Hospital and uses the hospital’s kitchen facility to teach classes. Participants in these classes can learn about the Zero Waste Method (consuming the entire vegetable) and chronic diseases. The garden outside Cox North Hospital will be used as a community rotation for the DI program. Students will learn the medicinal properties of plants, assist with classes and grant proposals, and may even learn how to pull a few weeds.

The third major piece of the DI program is the clinical experiences. Students work as dietitians and support staff as they learn new skills. Cox College’s relationship with CoxHealth again gives students an advantage, in that they have an arena in which to learn and the potential to be hired as regular staff after completing the program. In return, DI students assist dietitians and perform tasks that CoxHealth dietitians would otherwise perform.

“We’re training future employees,” Mize said.

This symbiotic relationship between CoxHealth and the Cox College Nutrition Diagnostics programs is supported by the shared philosophy of preventative nutrition methods. “CoxHealth is very progressive in the healthcare community. They’re doing things that aren’t being done other places,” Carpenter said.

The hands-on experience in the same hospital that might be their future employer provides another boon for students.

“Because CoxHealth is so advanced in practice, students are able to apply things they’re learning here,” Mize said. “Many of the things I learned at Cox College were not as easily applied at another hospital where I worked because the health system just wasn’t at that level.”

Jason Bauer, a Cox College alum, is the System Director of Food and Nutrition Services at CoxHealth. Jason was instrumental in the creation and design of this new DI program, and he continues to be an advocate for nutrition and dietitians in the Springfield area. Additionally, he is directly responsible for the clinical time Cox College students are able to obtain through CoxHealth.

“Our dietetic internship is considered one of the top programs in the nation due to its nutrition diagnostics,” said Bauer. “Our interns are taught to look at the medications our patients are on and see how they affect the nutrients they are consuming. Along with the medication analysis, we also do physical exams to help us correctly identify malnutrition.”

Additionally, Bauer’s plan is to purchase produce from the community gardens and implement it into the hospital’s meals.

The DI program was designed and taught almost entirely by alumni of Cox College. The instructors are passionate, intelligent and beyond qualified to educate future dietitians. The leadership from CoxHealth recognizes the need for dietitians in the health system and is supportive of this new program’s preventative methods and initiatives to improve community health.

It is an exciting time to be at Cox College. If you are interested in learning more about the ND-DI program, click here!