Dietetics students benefit from new accelerated master’s program

New program allows students to complete BS, MS, & supervised practice in just five years.

By 2024, in order for dietetics students to sit for the national registration exam, they will be required to have a master’s degree—not just a bachelor’s degree, which is the current standard. The College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS) is making the best of this profession-wide credential shift by proactively debuting an innovative Accelerated Dietitian Nutritionist Program this spring that’s designed to help students become stronger clinical dietitians.  

Traditionally, a dietetics student would complete a bachelor’s in dietetics, which is a four-year degree, followed by a two-year master’s program and a yearlong supervised practice internship. The college’s new accelerated program will shorten this timeline from seven years to five, with students completing the bachelor’s-level courses in three and a half years before spending a year and a half completing the master’s degree and supervised practice experience.

“It’s a real time saver, and obviously there are financial savings as well,” says Sarah Couch, director of the graduate nutrition program and professor, who planned the new  program’s curriculum. “It’s really designed to have students learn and do, so they’ll be taking both bachelor’s- and graduate-level courses and they’ll be doing the supervised practice intertwined with the learning,”  

Couch and John Pantel, director of the coordinated dietetics program, who spearheaded the supervised practice portion of the program, are hopeful the new accelerated format will attract a more diverse student population.

One of the barriers to any program is the cost and the time of the education. By cutting the time to getting your license, we feel it is a huge help to increasing the diversity of our program, which is something we’ve always been heavily invested in.

John Pantel Program Director

Applicants won’t have to worry about spending the time and money on taking the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) either, which further enhances the college’s ability to recruit diverse students.

Students will benefit in more ways than saving time and money. “Our program is unique in that we have a clinical nutrition concentration, so students will graduate with advanced knowledge in this area of practice,” says Couch, “and the clinical experience in supervised practice intertwined with the learning is really going to enhance their ability to practice right from the get-go, so we expect really strong graduates.”

Another factor that makes the program unique, Couch says, is its emphasis on quality improvement. Instead of completing a traditional final research project, students will take a semester-long course focused on quality improvement methods during their supervised practice internship, which means they’ll be learning about quality improvement methods while simultaneously putting those methods to practice at their clinical sites.

“It’s something that our dietitians, especially the clinical nutrition managers and food service managers, are already being asked to do, so it’s a natural skillset that will serve our student interns really well to learn on a professional level,” says Pantel, who, like Couch, has been trained in quality improvement methods by the Anderson Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). “All of our clinical and food service sites are on board and really excited about this course.”

In addition to briefing clinical partners about the new quality improvement course, Pantel has secured semester-long clinical rotations at top-notch clinical sites like UC Health and CCHMC, making CAHS the only dietetics internship coordinated program in the country to offer extended clinical pediatric rotations. “These extended rotations are particularly beneficial in that they allow students to train in one facility and really get the lay of the land and build expertise so when they graduate, a lot of these students are hired for jobs in these hospitals,” Couch says.

The college will begin taking applications for the first pilot program of about 10 students this spring. Thirty students will be accepted each following semester, ranking the program in the top five in the country for largest capacity. The program also offers a secondary pathway opportunity for bachelor’s-trained students who already completed the prerequisite requirements for admission into the master’s portion. A student with a biology degree who wants to change professions, for example, could complete the graduate training and supervised practice needed to sit for the national registration exam in just two years through the secondary pathway option. This pathway is also attractive to bachelor’s-trained registered dietetics who are already practicing but not required by the new accreditation to have a master’s degree and want to further their education. 

“This blended learning design that we have is where our accreditation is wanting everyone to go,” Pantel says. Couch adds, “I think students will be seeking out these streamlined programs so that they can do the bachelor’s and master’s more expediently; they’ll be very popular.”

Featured image: Program Director, John Pantel instructs students in Food and Nutrition laboratory. Photo/Colleen Kelley, UC Creative + Brand

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Learn more about the Accelerated Dietitian Nutritionist Program at the College of Allied Health Sciences.

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