Not a simulation: New tech assists Nutrition Science grad student dietitians’ work with real clients

Ali Meza-Soto discusses a client's nutrition goals.

Ali Meza-Soto, left, a Purdue University Nutrition Science graduate student, discusses nutrition goals with a real client, Lindsey Eggold. This experience will serve Meza-Soto well when she enters her supervised practice in the fall.Tim Brouk

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

The Purdue University graduate dietetics program within the Department of Nutrition Science integrated new technology to enhance dietitians’-in-training early experience in working one-on-one with clients who are wanting to improve their health via dietary changes.

The program used $40,000 of a $90,500 instructional equipment grant from the Purdue College of Health and Human Sciences to purchase new video cameras, microphones, cordless earpieces and other tools. This hardware has been paired with new audio/video recording software called VALT. Clinical assistant professor Rachel A. Clark uses the new technology in NUTR 51100 (Applied Nutrition Counseling) to observe, capture and review each students’ interactions with their client when they meet in one of the program’s two consultation rooms in Lyles-Porter Hall. The rest of the grant was used for upgrades in the nearby Teaching Kitchen.

A VALT camera attached to a wall in a room.

The new cameras inside the Nutrition Science consultation rooms allow faculty and students to view footage from different angles. Tim Brouk

This spring, the new technology was put to the test for a series of six consultations with a real client over the age of 35 for every graduate student in the class. The first visit was an hour-long assessment — a nutrition-focused physical exam, bloodwork and a conversation about the client’s nutrition-related concerns and habits — followed by five 45-minute sessions where the students and clients worked together on developing, implementing and fine-tuning realistic plans for nutrition changes that will support the client’s health goals.

“It’s real people with their real problems. They’re not actors or anything,” Clark said. “Figuring out that transition from being a student and doing case studies to actually working with a person and how different that is — it’s really eye-opening.”

Clark monitors the students’ sessions from different angles, communicating with the students through the earpiece and giving real-time feedback. The instructor can zoom in on facial expressions and the body language of the student and client. VALT allows Clark to make real-time notes within the video recording, so when students review each of their consultations, they can see Clark’s feedback and more objectively analyze the interaction.

“We have HIPAA-compliant storage and a lot more capacity in terms of what we can do and see with the videos. “Clark said. “(The students) learn so much. You see so much more when you’re out of the moment and you’re a little more relaxed.”

Right before her fourth consultation with client Lindsey Eggold, a Purdue staff member, graduate student Ali Meza-Soto said the experience working with a real client during her graduate studies has been extremely beneficial. As well, Meza-Soto’s VALT debriefing sessions with Clark right after the session and biweekly critiques with the other nine graduate students in the class have helped Meza-Soto in her confidence and expertise with each session.

“We look back immediately at the meeting we just had and evaluate it, and I think that’s really cool because it catches every angle of the meeting,” the student said. “It’s a different perspective than mine.”

The class coupled with the new technology will serve Meza-Soto well when she starts her supervised practice in the fall as a dietitian at a hospital, clinic, nursing home or school.

“It’s a very, very, very awesome opportunity because we’ve never been put in a position where we can get this real-life experience before,” Meza-Soto explained. “That is giving us a taste of what we could potentially be doing in the future. This has really given me a good idea that this is something that I really enjoy. I’m going to like counseling people.”


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