Representation matters by influencing recruitment into the field of dietetics and affects health outcomes in communities. An April 2021 statistic from the Commission of Dietetics shows that only 18.9% of Registered Dietitians identify as non-white (2.6% identify as Black or African American, 3.1% as Hispanic or Latino) and 6.1% identify as male. This demonstrates a huge lack of diversity in the field of dietetics. So, we ask the question: Why does diversity matter in dietetics?
We have a narrow view of what health looks like and isn’t always inclusive of other cultures. The Dietary Guidelines haven’t reflected the rich cultural heritage of many Americans. Representing the communities served may lead to better health outcomes. Non-English speaking patients typically receive better interpersonal care and demonstrate improved compliance when visiting language coordinated practitioners. It has been well-documented that healthcare recipients report the highest level of satisfaction with care and trust when the service provider and recipient share the same racial / ethnic background.
There are several barriers that impact the ability to create a more diverse RD workforce.
For one, the educational process to become an RD requires meeting grade and science requirements that people with education deficits may not be able to meet; there is well-known racial disparity in access to education. Family structure also may not be able to support the student on a pathway to become an RD. Most Dietetic internships are unpaid and are roughly 1 year long, deterring students who may not be financially ableto cover the expenses while unable to maintain a full-time work schedule.
The great thing is, knowing what the challenges are allows us to create solutions in order to build a more diverse field. Some of these ways include reaching students sooner through education programs, conducting thorough examinations of what the obstacles are and how they can be addressed, and developing a supporting and inclusive educational pipeline to the dietetics field. This is essential for recruiting and retaining a diverse pool of students. Increasing the number of nutrition students from underrepresented groups may lead to an increase in diversity among nutrition practitioners.
Identifying, recruiting, mentoring, and retaining members, especially young members, from diverse backgrounds is an Academy-wide priority as well. It is one of the five Academy values identified in the Strategic Plan. The diversity value “recognizes and respects differences in culture, ethnicity, age, gender, race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, politics and socioeconomic characteristics.” The Academy’s2018 Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession includes the standard of “acting in a caring and respectful manner, mindful of individual differences, cultural, and ethnic diversity.”
Diversify dietetics was founded in 2020 out of a need to address and increase ethnical and racial diversity in the profession. This community was created to attract, encourage, and empower students and professionals of color who are seeking careers in the field of nutrition and dietetics. In addition to addressing the lack of diversity in the field of dietetics, we also need to take steps to better understand and serve the different populations we interact with. This means learning about our implicit (or unconscious)biases and taking the necessary actions to curtail them so that we, as clinicians, can provide person-centered and individualized nutrition care. This process is often referred to as “cultural humility.”
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