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Online master’s degree in clinical nutrition aims to meet need for advanced training

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A new online Master of Clinical Nutrition – Nutrition Science degree program now offered by the School of Health Professions aims to meet a need in Texas and nationwide for advanced nutritional training of health care professionals.

Leaders at UT Southwestern’s School of Health Professions recognize the need for advanced nutritional education for health care providers who are on the front lines of patient care battling one of the most important environmental factors linked to longevity of life – diet.

For that reason, they developed a new Master of Clinical Nutrition – Nutrition Science (MCN-NS) program. It is the first fully online master’s program offered at UTSW that is specifically designed for health professionals and registered dietitian nutritionists that provides advanced nutrition knowledge to help prevent and manage disease as well as optimize patient health. Online applications are due April 1 for the inaugural class, which begins in August.

Jeffrey Browning, M.D., School of Health Professions Chair of Clinical Nutrition, said the new MCN-NS online program can have a profound impact with far-reaching consequences on the health of communities everywhere.

“There is a real need for more rigorous nutritional education among health care professionals to empower their patients to maintain health, or combat disease, through an evidence-based approach,” Dr. Browning said. “This need is one of the reasons that this new master’s program was developed.”

Dr. Browning said medical schools in the U.S. provide, on average, 20 hours of nutrition education for their students over four years of matriculation – and only one-third of these schools offer a dedicated nutrition course. There is a lack of nutritional learning in postgraduate medical education and other health professions as well, he added.

“When polled, less than one-half of primary care providers feel competent in counseling their patients on diet or prescribing weight loss medications,” Dr. Browning said. “This represents a real disconnect between those tasked with caring for us and the importance of nutrition in health and wellness. Obesity represents the biggest risk factor for a multitude of chronic illnesses, yet physicians are unlikely to feel competent to counsel their patients on how to combat it and are remarkably unsuccessful in helping patients to lose weight.”

“As part of a highly rated academic medical center, the UT Southwestern School of Health Professions offers outstanding clinical education,” said Jon Williamson, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Health Professions. “Building on the excellence of our Clinical Nutrition program, we are very excited to be able to expand our educational offerings to include an online degree program in clinical nutrition. We anticipate numerous health care providers will benefit from this specialized training to better serve their patients and communities.”

The goals of the MCN-NS are to equip health professionals to be competent in nutrition screening of their patients so they can provide nutrition care and make appropriate referrals to a registered dietitian and also to train them to interpret and communicate science-based principles of nutrition and current research. Program graduates will develop a strong knowledge base in clinical nutrition and be able to use it effectively to prevent and treat disease with an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach.

Parul Sharma, Ph.D., Program Director of the MCN-NS, said the degree is advantageous for all health care professionals, with a particular emphasis on medical students, fellows, residents, physicians, nurses, nursing students, pharmacists, and physician assistants. Graduates of the program can work in medical care, the food industry, research, education, and employee health coaching.

“The MCN-NS program was designed to offer advanced nutrition education tailored for health care professionals and dietitians pursuing a master’s degree,” Dr. Sharma said. “This is a great opportunity for working professionals. This unique program is self-paced, so participants have the flexibility to complete it in as little as 15 months or extend the duration to more than 24 months.”

In addition, the need for professionals trained in nutrition science is growing. By 2032, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% growth in dietitian and nutritionist employment, faster than the average for all occupations.

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