When it comes to offering dietetic advice to medical patients, vague statements about healthier eating and lifestyle choices can sometimes be a little too reductive to be actionable, especially for people who never really learned to eat right in the first place. In fact, that could be the very thing that landed them in a situation where they’re face-to-face with a doctor having a conversation about eating habits.
There is a lot to the science of nutrition, and a whole lot more to being effective at encouraging people to make the right food choices. Nutritionists and dieticians have plenty to say about both nutrition science and the psychology behind effective nutritional coaching, and MDs and other healthcare professionals are leaning in to listen. Some are even getting additional training on their own time through online short courses in nutrition science.
Nutrition and diet are some of the biggest determinants of health overall, and have wide-ranging effects on all sorts of medical issues, from vulnerability to disease to recovery from injury. There is such a strong connection between nutrition and mental health that, according to Harvard Medical School, it has spawned the entirely new field of nutritional psychiatry to study the impact that specific types of foods have on mood and psychological well-being.
Many healthcare professionals are a bit behind the curve, however. A 2018 report from Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that the topic of nutrition is under-represented in healthcare education, with only 14 percent of surveyed resident physicians reporting having adequate training in offering nutritional counseling to patients.
It’s a gap in medical and healthcare training that is finally being recognized, and now it’s one that you can easily address with a short course in nutrition science.
Why All Healthcare Professionals Need to Understand Nutrition Science
As the healthcare industry has embraced more holistic approaches to health and wellness, the effects of proper or improper nutrition, as the case may be, have been more widely recognized. But education in the area hasn’t necessarily improved for doctors, pharmacists, therapists, and other professionals in the industry.
Research published by the National Institutes of Health has shown that the Western diet, high in red meats, sugar, and processed foods, is strongly linked to higher risks for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease… some of the biggest killers in America, and complicating factors in many other diseases and disorders.
Diet modification remains one of the single most effective means of addressing these issues, and a strong foundation in modern nutritional science is one of the best ways to equip yourself with that tool in the fight against disease.
Studies by the National Institutes of Health have also found significant evidence that lifestyle intervention alone—a combination of increased physical activity and diet leading to weight loss—reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent, better than pharmaceutical-based approaches.
Similar impacts can be found in many areas of healthcare, which makes nutritional science a valuable addition to your skillset regardless of your specialty.
What to Look for in a Short Courses in Nutrition Science
You’ve already concluded that you need to know more about nutrition science in order to serve patients as effectively as possible, but you can’t exactly step away from your job or practice to go back to school for several months to earn a certificate in the subject. A short course that can generally be completed in eight weeks or less, offers the right level of education in the right time frame to have real benefits to your patients and your career without pulling you away from your work.
Since the courses are so brief, the instructor and school offering them have a significant impact on what you’ll take away from the program. It’s smart to look for big-name, well-established university programs, like the Nutrition Science course from the Stanford Center for Health Education. You will find the best instructors with direct research and academic experience in the field, as well as accomplished guest lecturers or contributors when you go with top university-backed courses.
You can find those courses being offered by the colleges themselves, or through course aggregators such as GetSmarter, edX, and Coursera. In some cases, the course may offer a certificate, but it’s really the knowledge you come away with that is valuable.
What to Expect From a Short Course in Nutrition Science
The right short course for you should land right in the Goldilocks range: not too simple, not too complex. A course aimed at current healthcare professionals should not have to waste time explaining basic scientific and health concepts that you’re already familiar with. Instead, the modules should aim to build on common elements of health and science that are already within your purview and foundational to the work you do every day.
The important concepts in nutritional science that you should find in a comprehensive short course include:
- Essential breakdown of nutritional elements of food and their respective roles in a healthy diet, including:
- The roles of macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- The importance of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals
- An exploration of the relationship between nutrition and wellness, including calorie levels and disease susceptibility based on dietary elements
- Acquiring the skills to evaluate new findings in nutrition science
- How nutrition guidelines are established
- The essential elements of nutritional plan development in healthcare settings
You might also find short courses that are focused on a particular healthcare profession or the effects of nutrition on particular conditions, such as the Food and Inflammation short course from Monash University.
Looking for Online Short Courses in Nutrition Science
Online courses are becoming a more common choice in every field, and healthcare is no exception. As a busy professional in an industry that is already straining to staff services for a growing patient base, you don’t have time left in your day to make your way across town to sit in a drafty lecture hall for a couple hours. And that’s if you can even find such a specialized course in a location close enough to commute to.
Online classes allow you to tap into the expertise available at top universities anywhere in the world without leaving your home or office. Even better, since most courses are offered asynchronously, you can do so at any time of the day or night, for as long or as little time as you have.
You will want to make sure that any online short course you sign up for includes sophisticated technology to make this possible without losing any of the valuable insights or information it has to offer. Those may include:
- Virtual blackboards
- Video streaming
- Chatroom and group collaboration features
- Digital library access
- 24/7 tech support
Increasingly, online platforms are coming with their own apps, which can bring all those features to a phone or tablet, allowing you to follow a course while in the breakroom at work or commuting on the train.