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An idea that’s good enough to eat

The campus Health Center had no nutrition consultants, and our nutrition students needed internships. Hmm, what to do?

By Mark Cox

December 7, 2016

Until recently, getting good nutrition advice could be a costly business for students, faculty and staff.

The Health Center at Auraria had no staff registered dietitians, and being referred to an off-campus nutritionist takes time and could cost in excess of $100. That’s why when Cynthia Dormer had a good idea it was a real light bulb moment.

Dormer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Nutrition Department and registered dietitian, sits on the Be Well Auraria Wellness Committee (a tri-institutional body charged with promoting good health on campus). When she mentioned that some of her students were both nutrition experts and looking for clinical internship opportunities, all the pieces seem to fall into place at once.

After swift approval from both the Nutrition Department and the Health Center, four final-year nutrition students became student interns. And now Dormer and the students are taking referrals from grateful clients – absolutely free of charge.

Big opportunity

Student intern Isabel Feldman says, “Actually seeing and treating people has transformed my learning experience. Whenever I advise someone, I obviously have to research their condition in advance, so I’m always learning.”

Her colleague Delana Harr agrees. “When you’re actually sitting there talking to someone about their condition, it’s obviously so much more illuminating than just looking in a textbook.”

The four students work closely together and collaborate to discuss cases, and spend three to four hours each week working with clients. “That includes initial consultations and follow-up appointments, then emails to check on progress,” according to Harr.

And besides helping others, the students are also getting a big boost to their own potential careers. Feldman explains, “Many nutrition students hope to ultimately become registered dietitians – but to do that we need accredited internships, which are extremely hard to get into. So the work I’m doing now is not only building my knowledge, it’ll look great on my resume.”

High demand

Since the project started, the Health Center has steadily referred people to the nutrition experts – a true mark of success. And everyone agrees on one thing: There is a need for good nutrition advice.

A full 25 percent of average campus populations suffer from some type of eating disorder. Two-thirds of the general population have weight concerns. And among staff, faculty and students, many chronic conditions, such as prediabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure, could be better managed and improved with a little help.

Which is why the interns are being kept very busy – but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

As Feldman says, “It’s pretty cool that people trust and rely on us; they are touched that we are taking the trouble to advise them. And when we email later to check on their progress, they just love that. They know we’re looking out for them.”

And don’t forget…

The Healthy Eating Challenge will be starting in February 2017. So if your dietary New Year’s resolutions begin to slip by then, Dormer, nutrition interns, and the Challenge will help get you back on course. More details to follow.

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