Long-Term Outcomes of a Community of Practice for Dietitians Working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health: A Multimethod, Follow-up Study

J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2021 Jun 8. doi: 10.1097/CEH.0000000000000370. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Dietitians are in an important position to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to improve their health and may play a role in reducing the burden of disease experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Many dietitians do not feel confident to practice effectively in these settings and require improved workforce development opportunities. Communities of Practice can improve dietitians' confidence and practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; however, evidence for long-term impacts is limited. This study aims to determine if a Community of Practice can have long-term impacts on dietitians working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Methods: Data were collected through semistructured interviews and a cultural awareness self-assessment tool. Analysis was through a multimethod approach and combined qualitative inductive thematic analysis, social network analysis, and descriptive statistics.

Results: Three main areas of long-term impact were identified including development of a social and professional network, career progression and retention, and a fundamental change in thinking and practice. All participants experienced feelings of support and increased confidence.

Discussion: Communities of practice may be a feasible, low-cost workforce development strategy that can reduce dietitians' feelings of professional isolation when working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Further research is required to identify the mechanisms underlying sustained impacts. Social network analysis, combined with realist evaluation may be an appropriate research design, to answer future and more in-depth questions about the effectiveness of communities of practice.