I commonly get asked:
What is the role of a dietitian in the hospital?
This is not exactly an easy question to answer because I have learned the role of a dietitian varies in every hospital and among different types of dietitians. However, one role universal to dietitians in most hospitals is providing patients with diet education.
In entering the fourth week of my clinical rotation at Carroll Hospital Center and I have already begun educating patients on their diets for various nutrition related medical conditions. I am quickly learning that there is no standard approach for counseling patients in the hospital. Each person comes in with a different story and each education needs to be unique in order to provide the best possible care.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up in my few short weeks counseling patients in the hospital that have helped me deliver more meaningful diet education:
1. Formally Introduce yourself: A hospital patient may see many specialists while their in the hospital so it is not always clear to the patient who you are or why you are coming to speak with them. Be sure to be polite, introduce yourself, and make it known what their diagnosis is and how your education can help them.
2. Assess their level of understanding: Before you dive in and begin talking nutrition science and physiology with the patient figure out what their knowledge level is and how they prefer to learn. Then educate accordingly.
3. Be a good listener: There is very little time to educate a patient in the hospital setting and I often want to unload all the information I can in 15 short minutes. However, I find asking open-ended questions and actively listening to patients allows me to better assess behavior and knowledge level. Additionally, they may even gain some more insight to their nutrition by talking about their own diet habits.
4. Create small attainable goals: While it would be ideal for patients to give up all saturated fat, salt, sugar, and fast foods it’s not likely going to happen. People need small measureable goals that they feel confident in reaching. Help create goals that fit into their lifestyle and find strategies to keep them accountable.
5. Know When to Leave: Despite how important diet education can be for a hospital patient with a diagnosis such as congestive heart failure or diabetes it may not always be the appropriate time. Some patients may be in too much pain, have just learned they have a terminal illness, or may just not be ready to learn about nutrition. It is important to be perceptive of their attitude and situation. A good place to start is just by asking them if it would be ok if you provided them with diet education.