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Building an Effective Communication
Toolkit: The Importance of Training
Dietetic Interns in Information Technology

Effective communication is integral to success in any profession and dietetics is no exception. Whether this communication is between professionals or from professional to client, it is becoming increasingly important for dietitians and diet technicians to be able to utilize the latest technological advances as part of their communication toolkit. The University of Maryland College Park Dietetic Internship has, at its core, an emphasis on information technology (IT) and management, allowing its interns to not only develop competencies in clinical nutrition, community nutrition and food service management, but also to graduate with intermediate to advanced IT skills. The internship includes training in Web design (including classes in HTML coding and Macromedia Dreamweaver), database design and management, graphic design, and advanced PowerPoint. These skills are then applied during an eight-week supervised practice experience at the USDA National Agricultural Library’s Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC) and Food Safety Information Center (FSIC), located in Beltsville, MD.

While at these federal information centers, the interns have the opportunity to work with teams of nutrition information specialists Building an Effective Communication Toolkit: The Importance of Training Dietetic Interns in Information Technology Kathleen M. Pellechia, RD, USDA/NAL Food and Nutrition Information Center (trained nutrition professionals, most of whom are Registered Dietitians) on the different Web sites and resource systems that compose FNIC and FSIC. Although the individual projects may vary, each intern has the opportunity to create/modify a web page(s) and database(s) (in Microsoft Access or a similar program) of nutrition/food safety education and training materials for the various patrons of the information centers. In addition,the interns are trained in providing reference services to consumers and health professionals, thus allowing them to gain knowledge and skills in searching online databases for resources, locating web sites with reliable information and then presenting these search results in a format that can best be accessed and applied by the end-user.

The IT instruction and practice does not only happen during the rotation at the National Agricultural Library. Each intern has the opportunity todevelop an online personal portfolio in which they can post accomplishments and projects completed during the internship. Support is provided by staff of the Office of Information Technology, University of Maryland College Park, in the form of on-site group/individual work sessions, and electronically through Web-CT, an elearning system for higher education institutions that allows faculty and students to interact with each other outside the classroom. FNIC and FSIC staff also provide periodic reviews and feedback on the Web sites, offering support and suggestions for improvements. The online portfolios not only allow the interns to practice their newfound IT skills, but also give them a unique portal to market themselves for employment following the conclusion of the internship.

Developing dietetic interns who are able to meet the competencies of the program and then become successful professionals in the field is, of course, the ultimate goal of the dietetic internship process. With a unique sub-set of skills and online portfolio in hand, interns graduating from this program are well-equipped to meet the challenges of effectively communicating nutrition information. For more information on the intern portfolio projects and to see examples, visit http://www.agnr.umd.edu/users/nfsc/internship/personalweb.html.

This article is featured in the Summer issue of DEPLine which is available in the DEP members only section.