Advancing practice in dietitians' communication and nutrition counselling skills: a workplace education program

J Hum Nutr Diet. 2018 Dec;31(6):725-733. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12569. Epub 2018 Jun 7.


Background: Communication is the primary method in which dietitians conduct their practice. However, continuing education and competency standards are often focused on clinical knowledge and skills, with few programs being available to improve the communication and nutrition counselling skills of dietitians. Dietitians have reported reduced confidence in the knowledge and use of these skills, particularly when dealing with people who are struggling to find motivation to change their eating behaviours. The present study aimed to evaluate the effect of a workplace education program on the self-reported communication and nutrition counselling skills of dietitians.

Methods: An education program was developed using techniques from motivational interviewing, patient-centred therapy, solution-focused therapy and narrative therapy. These techniques were chosen based on evidence of potential application to dietetic practice for behaviour change. Dietitians working in acute care hospitals and community health services completed the program. Pre- and post-written surveys incorporating five-point Likert scales (1-5) were used to evaluate the program. The results were analysed using parametric and nonparametric statistics.

Results: Fifty dietitians completed the program and evaluation. The dietitians' self-rating of their communication and nutrition counselling skills improved significantly (median = 3 versus 4, Z = 4.562, P < 0.001, r = 0.65). Dietitians also reported knowledge of a greater variety of behaviour change techniques to use with their patients post-program.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first dietitian-specific workplace education program of its type to address essential skills for better communication with patients. Ongoing workplace support, such as peer observation, is recommended to assist with skill development and sustainability.

Keywords: communication; dietetics; education program; nutrition counselling.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Counseling / education*
  • Dietetics*
  • Education, Continuing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Nutritionists / education*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace*