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Southern Miss Professor Shapes Nutrition and Dietetic Educational Standards

Dr. Elaine Molaison, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems, is helping shape new national education standards for nutrition and dietetic students.

Molaison is the chair of the Expanded Standards Workgroup, a subcommittee of the standards committee for the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). She and the committee are responsible for assuring good accreditation practices are followed in creating new, degree-based standards.

“Based on our research findings, the committee found the needs of the future of health care are going to be greater than the needs of the present,” said Molaison. “As a result, a visioning group made the recommendation to increase the amount of education required to enter the workforce.”

The committee recommended a new education model for nutrition and dietetics that includes three degree levels. The first level involves creating a new nutritional professional at the associate’s degree level. The second and third level increases educational standards for other nutrition professionals. Entry-level education for a Dietetic Technician would require a baccalaureate degree, rather than an associate’s degree, and a Registered Dietitian would require a master’s degree, rather than a baccalaureate degree.

“I truly believe the increased number of opportunities presented to the graduates from the three degree levels will create a group of well-educated and highly skilled nutrition and dietetics professionals that are poised to improve the health of Mississippi residents and the nation,” said Molaison.

The committee hopes the new standards will be released for adoption by pilot programs in June 2017. If successful, ACEND could mandate all nutrition and dietetic programs across the United States implement the new standards.

Southern Miss already has a Dietetic Internship offered at the master’s degree level. If the new standards are mandated, the program will be able to make necessary changes.

“Recently, many health care providers have increased the amount of education required to enter the workforce. For example, pharmacy now requires the PharmD, and physical therapy requires a doctorate,” said Molaison. “These decisions were made because of an increased amount of knowledge and skills needed to provide adequate and safe care to patients and clients. The same is true for the nutrition and dietetics professionals.”

For more information about the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems in The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Health, visit www.usm.edu/nutrition.

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