From Our Team
Investing in registered dietitians is a heath investment for the region.
Posted on February 23, 2023 by Jana Renner
Eating healthy isn’t easy, and it can be especially difficult for those with chronic diseases. If someone has pre-diabetes, diabetes, or obesity, seeing a registered dietitian that is trained in food restrictions, eating habits, and meal plans could make eating healthy easier.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in New Mexico, 12.3% of adults have diabetes. It is important to not only prevent diabetes through healthy eating programs but to also provide management and treatment in a clinical setting.
The New Mexico State University (NMSU) Dietetic Internship program is the only program that trains students to become registered dietitians in southern New Mexico and southwest Texas. With funding from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, the NMSU Dietetic program was able to help dietetic interns complete their clinical internship hours through a simulation lab and virtual reality curricula. Due to a lack of registered dietitians in the state of New Mexico, hospital internship placements were limited. The simulation lab and virtual reality curricula allows students to get real-world training, making the transition between the classroom and the real experience less challenging.
“The Paso del Norte Health Foundation gave me the help that I needed to make the New Mexico State University Dietetic Internship Program recognized nationally, because we have unique opportunities that are not done elsewhere,” said Sylvia “Gaby” Phillips MS, RD, LD, NMSU Dietetic Internship Program Director.
The shortage of placements created a need to find creative solutions to expand opportunities for students. The program shifted their scope of practice and worked into expanding virtual reality curricula.
NMSU worked with local registered dietitians to help write case studies that mimicked real life cases that interns would likely treat in a clinical setting. Students were able to learn with a virtual reality headset and a mannequin that mimicked human speech.
Accessing and manipulating the mannequin from home at times during the pandemic, Phillips was able to observe and challenge the intern’s interaction with the mannequin.
This helped bridge the gap between school and real-life clinicals.
“It helps to build those clinical skills, the interaction, also the language that they may need to use,” Phillips said.
NMSU has the only dietetic internship program that uses virtual reality to train students. The program has secured federal funding to expand the curricula to make this type of training available to other universities.
“What we’re doing now is basically expanding what I started with the partnership of the Health Foundation, with a new federal grant in collaboration with another university in the east coast,” Phillips said. “I think virtual reality and simulation are going to be the future of healthcare education.”
“Registered Dietitians are important in providing the healthcare support and services in our community,” said Phillips. “But also, as we see many chronic diseases increase in our region. Registered Dietitians will play a role as well in the prevention side.”
Since 2011, the program has educated about 12 cohorts of new Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and this year will celebrate 10 years of certifying graduate students/dietetic interns who are eligible to take the National Registered Dietitian Exam.
The Paso del Norte Health Foundation is investing in partnerships to promote healthy eating and increase healthcare professionals, give students in healthcare diverse range of learning in the region. Learn more about the New Mexico State University Dietetic Internship program: https://dieteticinternship.nmsu.edu/
PDNHF Priority Area: Healthy Living
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