June 20, 2008

Program stresses food management

Featured Image

For their community projects, dietetic interns Jenny Cooper, left, and Megan Roth developed plans to bring more locally grown produce to Vanderbilt’s Courtyard Cafe and chef Alex Perrone. (photo by Neil Brake)

Program stresses food management

With 15 local projects and one international endeavor, Vanderbilt Medical Center's dietetic interns are sharing their knowledge and improving wellness here and abroad.

The interns worked with community partners to generate programs like cooking classes and farmers’ markets.

The Dietetic Internship Program, which began in 1929, is a 44-week post-baccalaureate program that puts interns through 23 clinically based and community-focused rotations.

This year's class represents 10 states, Iraq and Ireland. Following graduation June 16, they will complete a credentialing exam and receive the designation of Registered Dietitian.

Elizabeth Wolff-Robinson, M.Ed., R.D., program director and clinical educational coordinator, describes the program as highly competitive. Only 16 interns are accepted each year, and there were almost 200 applicants for next year's class.

Dianne Killebrew, M.Ed, R.D., food system and community educational coordinator, said the program's success is largely due to the strong network of collaborative partnerships at Vanderbilt and in the surrounding community.

“It is one of the oldest and most well established programs in the nation for entry-level practitioners,” Killebrew said. “One of our tag lines is 'We make Mercedes-level dietitians — not Ford Pintos.'”

The program emphasizes nutrition therapy and food systems management, and incorporates a special component called Nutritainment: Entertaining Nutrition For Your Health, an innovative education model developed by the internship program and trademarked by Vanderbilt.

Among the community projects presented was Stacye Horne's Wisemoves, a 28-day wellness challenge for police officers and firefighters that she developed in partnership with the Metro Public Health Department.

Focusing on nutrition and exercise, the program aims for long-term behavioral change because life expectancy is surprisingly low for this population.

“Sixty-six is the average life expectancy for police and firefighters. They're only expected to live two years past retirement,” Horne said. “They help us, so we need to help them in return.”

Yoga, fitness and stress relief classes will be taught by Tara Beever, program director at Metro Public Health, and Sarah Vaughn, a registered dietitian, will teach portion sizes and healthy ways to eat out and grocery shop.

“We're so grateful for Stacye's work,” Vaughn said. “It's hard to find time to create these projects.”

Cari Meyer is the first dietetic intern to look outside the Nashville community, and she looked all the way to Haiti. Inspired to work internationally by a previous experience studying abroad in Peru, she partnered with Visitation Hospital Foundation and its development director, Fran Rajotte. Meyer created a program that trains community health workers to aid Haitians with nutritional issues, and she investigated issues hindering food relief, like transportation and storage.

“We take for granted the resources we have available locally,” Meyer said. “A little bit does go a long way in areas such as Haiti, where there is an extreme need for nutritional support.”

According to Meyer, nearly half of all Haitians are undernourished. Rajotte said hunger is so severe in Haiti that mothers feed children “cookies” made from mud, salt and oil. Meyer researched a peanut-based product called Plumpy Nut and discovered its many benefits for undernourished children, namely a long shelf life, a protective seal and all the necessary nutrients.

According to Rajotte, nutrition is a weak aspect of Visitation Hospital, so she was thrilled to get support from the dietetic interns.

“We believe that the partnership with Vanderbilt will connect all the dots for us in providing good medical care and proper nutrition for the people of Haiti,” she said.

For descriptions of other community projects from the dietetic interns, go to the Reporter Web site, mc.vanderbilt.edu/reporter, and click on the June 20 issue.