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Dietetic interns add health and wellness training

Jun. 27, 2013, 9:02 AM

Dietetic intern Stephanie Murico, right, with patient Sonya Simmons. (photo by Steve Green)

Sonya Simmons felt like she was losing the battle against an unhealthy lifestyle. After a particularly stressful holiday season, her doctor told her that her blood pressure was creeping up and she was bordering on developing diabetes. Then a colleague at Vanderbilt called to ask her to participate in a pilot program where she would receive free health and wellness coaching from Vanderbilt’s dietetic interns.

Dianne Killebrew, M.Ed., R.D., LDN, education coordinator for the Dietetic Internship Program at Vanderbilt, recruited Simmons and a number of other Vanderbilt employees to be subjects for a new curriculum added last spring to the dietetic internship. For 13 weeks, interns would add health and wellness coaching training to their usual preparation for becoming registered dietitians.

“Dianne used to work near my office and she called and asked if I would be interested in working with one of her interns in this pilot program. I felt it was right on time because I have learned that having support is very important when trying to achieve any goal, especially weight loss,” Simmons recalled.

Intern Stephanie Murico met with Simmons beginning in April.

“We were very busy, but we did look forward to this new part of the training. It was a great opportunity to interact with people in a more positive way. Most people already know what they should be doing and don’t want a doctor to tell them what they need to do about obesity. We were more like cheerleaders, if you will. We used motivational interviewing and other techniques common to both our training in dietetics and wellness coaching,” Murico said.

Killebrew, who is a certified health and wellness coach herself, said the pilot project is part of a national trend toward wellness coaching. She said dietetic interns are ideal candidates to become certified health and wellness coaches and dietitians at the same time.

“The decision to include this into the curriculum was based on a workforce demand article. The research suggests combining nutrition with skills in health and wellness coaching is one strategy to position future practitioners for a health care system shift that focuses on predicting and preventing disease,” Killebrew said.

The pilot received rave reviews from this year’s class of 16 dietetic interns and their subjects, who received a total of 95 free health and wellness coaching sessions resulting in a collective loss of 71 pounds.

“The experience was very helpful in applying dietetics to the whole picture. It helped us to tie everything together both in the clinical aspect as well as community and individual aspects,” Murico said.

Simmons said the best part was learning a much more realistic way to view her own challenges to fitness and weight loss.

“Stephanie really focused most on working with me on controlling stress level. That’s getting better now. I am so grateful that she was there with me every day, even if was an email or a text or a quick phone call. I learned it is all connected. And she taught me to view setbacks as learning and not failing,” Simmons said.

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