Nutrition and Dietetics Program launches

October 6/2014

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Toronto Public Health and University Health Network are partnering to create a comprehensive dietetic education program to improve nutrition services throughout the city and beyond. The Master of Public Health (MPH) in Nutrition and Dietetics is one of the only programs in Canada with a comprehensive dietetic education model and will begin student recruitment this fall 2014.

Currently, dietitians receive academic and practical training, with a practicum or internship in a hospital, clinical or community setting. This approach compartmentalizes learning and creates silos because students must choose either a clinical or community focus. The Nutrition and Dietetics program will minimize these boundaries to create a systems-based approach that recognizes the changing nature of Canada’s health landscape.

The program will combine the existing MPH Community Nutrition Program at the University of Toronto (U of T), with the dietetic internship at University Health Network (UHN), and the vast nutrition programming at Toronto Public Health to create a hub for nutrition and dietetics education. The program will continue to operate jointly with U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

Ross Upshur, Head of the School’s Division of Clinical Public Health says the growing number of people living with multiple chronic conditions, like arthritis, cancer and diabetes, are forcing the health care system to change.

“We train health professionals, including dietitians, to treat specific diseases in isolated settings,” said Upshur, also Medical Director at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare. “But many Ontarians have all of the above and yet we don’t have a treatment model for people with multiple concurrent chronic diseases, and we don’t train health professionals to provide optimal care.”

The program will train dietitians to thrive in this complex system by providing practical experience in community and clinical settings. It will have a strong prevention focus, a public health pillar, and will not only help bridge the disease divide, it will also help mid-career dietitians increase their own qualifications.

“This community of dietitians will foster a culture of lifelong learning and offer continuing education opportunities for seasoned dietitians,” said Brian Hodges, Vice President of Education at UHN, who hopes the program will blur the boundary of teachers and learners and integrate nutrition prevention strategies in clinical settings.

UHN and Toronto Public Health are two leading health organizations that employ more than 100 dietitians combined. The Nutrition and Dietetics MPH will facilitate internships for students in the program and enhance job opportunities for graduates.

“The dietary needs across the city of Toronto are incredibly diverse.  This program will provide students with an understanding of the unique role that public health dietitians play in improving the health of everyone in the community,” said David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

Health promotion and chronic disease prevention are a major focus for Toronto Public Health. For example, dietitians work with parents, schools and community partners to create healthy eating environments that help establish healthy eating behaviours. On the other side of the health system spectrum, clinical dietitians at UHN often work with patients to manage diet-related disease such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

The MPH in Nutrition and Dietetics will prepare dietitians who know how to prevent and treat disease across the lifespan and sets the stage for health professionals to make a positive impact, from prevention to palliation.