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Insights into the professional world of nutritional counselling

March 8, 2023

reading time

10 min

On Nutrition Counselling Day, we ask our nutritionists what makes their day-to-day work so special, what the biggest challenges are and much more.
Young smiling nurse in professional dress with glasses in front of blurred hospital background.

What can career starters expect from the training programme?

The Bachelor's degree programme in Nutrition and Dietetics is a versatile degree programme that combines various subject areas relating to nutrition: Food science, medicine, psychology and counselling. I personally completed the course at Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH), which is why I will briefly explain the degree programme in Bern below. In addition to the BFH, the Distance Learning University of Applied Sciences (FFHS) in Zurich also offers the programme.

The full-time degree programme at BFH consists of six semesters. The first year of the programme focuses on nutrition for healthy people. The second year is dedicated to the counselling and therapy of sick people, before the third year focuses on counselling and nutritional therapy topics. The programme is accompanied by three internships, which can be completed in the outpatient or inpatient sector, but also in research, prevention or industry. After the three years of study, the programme concludes with a ten-month practical module, which is designed to promote and facilitate entry into professional practice.

- Linda Feer, nutritional counsellor

Smiling woman in medical professional clothing with glasses and braided hair.

What motivates you in your work?

It is motivating when I can support patients in their recovery process or help to improve their quality of life a little. A "thank you" from patients and/or relatives, whether spoken out loud or symbolised by a smile, is a constant source of motivation in my day-to-day work. I am also motivated by the collegial interaction within the hospital's interprofessional team.

- Madelaine Kindt, nutritional counsellor

Smiling medical professional in white professional clothing with blue accents against a blurred background.

What makes your day-to-day work so special?

Every day is different and brings new challenges. We work independently and as part of a team. Collaborating with many different professional groups is exciting and brings variety to our day-to-day work. Our therapeutic interventions depend on the illness. Our work is also influenced by our patients' eating habits, culture, experiences and financial means. This requires a great deal of empathy and flexibility.

- Rahel Wymann, nutritional counsellor

Smiling medical professional in white clothing with glasses.

What are your biggest challenges at work?

Eating is a very personal process that goes far beyond the mere intake of nutrients. We associate certain memories, family traditions, individual beliefs and even emotions with our food. It is therefore not surprising that a proposed change to these deeply rooted habits is often met with resistance. In addition, an entrenched eating pattern makes a rapid, sustainable change more difficult. In this case, progress can often only be made in small steps, which is often incompatible with our performance-orientated, hectic everyday lives. In addition to time, the change in diet also requires additional effort, which not everyone is prepared to make. After all, most of the dietary recommendations are not actions that should be taken for a limited period of time, but rather a change of habit for life. A further challenge is that, in addition to the numerous, useful pieces of information on the internet, there are also many undifferentiated and non-evidence-based recommendations. Unfortunately, this can also lead to a one-sided and harmful diet. This misinformation needs to be clarified in dialogue. It is understandable that all these factors can cause frustration and confusion. It is the task of nutritional counsellors to confront patients with realistic goals when communicating individual nutritional recommendations, to support self-efficacy and to keep the original motivation in mind.

- Patrizia Burger, nutritional counsellor

Smiling woman in medical professional clothing against a blurred background.

Why did you decide to become a nutritionist?

I first came into contact with the profession in kindergarten. Back then, a nutritionist visited us and taught us how to put together the perfect snack. I was totally fascinated. The profession stayed with me until I was a teenager. Firstly because I like working with people, and secondly because I was very interested in the medical background. And because I also love eating and enjoy everything to do with food, the job of a nutritionist combines all my areas of interest. The combination of nutrition-related expertise and medical knowledge is what made it special for me. That's why I chose this profession. The best thing about it is that I can use my expertise to support other people and give them advice. That gives me an incredible amount.

- Alexandra Frank, nutritional counsellor

Young smiling woman in medical professional clothing against a blurred background.

What does a normal working day as a dietitian at Zollikerberg Hospital look like?

In an inpatient setting, an "ordinary working day" is a rarity. Normally, our working day at Zollikerberg Hospital is filled with patient consultations on the wards. Individualised interventions are derived, taking into account disease-specific nutritional recommendations. We offer inpatient care and outpatient consultations. We are confronted with a wide variety of needs and life situations. In addition to administrative activities, interprofessional collaboration in the hospital with the hotel, diet kitchen, nursing and doctors takes up a lot of time and is of great importance in order to ensure the best possible treatment for patients.

- Tatjana Zaugg, nutritional counsellor

Smiling doctor with glasses and white professional clothing in front of a blurred background.

How does nutritional counselling differ between inpatient and outpatient settings?

Outpatient consultations account for around 30 per cent of everyday nutritional therapy at Zollikerberg Hospital. Compared to inpatient consultations, outpatient consultations are usually planned days to weeks in advance. The counselling often lasts several weeks to months, sometimes even years. The topics and concerns of patients are also very diverse in the outpatient area: from "classic" weight reduction and diabetes to intolerances or malnutrition, everything is covered. Interprofessional collaboration is usually not quite as pronounced in the outpatient sector as in the inpatient setting. In addition to the doctor, another caregiver can also be an important point of contact for nutritional counselling in the outpatient setting.

- Sabrina Vontobel, nutritional counsellor

Smiling woman in medical professional clothing with glasses.

"A profession that is evolving" - what does that mean?

For me, the profession of nutritional counselling is varied and complex. In everyday hospital life, I am confronted with various medical diagnoses and patient characters. This is what makes the work so exciting, challenging and enjoyable. In addition to working with patients, I am also involved in teaching and training. I prepare lectures, workshops and short inputs for carers, hotel staff, diet cooks and doctors or for external people.

The professional fields of nutritional counselling are different. Compared to the past, when the profession was mainly found in hospitals, today we also increasingly find nutritional counselling in rehabilitation clinics, in the home care sector, in the food industry, in project management and marketing as well as in self-employment and many more. This means that everyone can find an area in which they can deal with the topic of nutrition in various facets.

- Daniela Facchin-Scholze, Head of Nutritional Counselling / Nutrition Consultant

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