Lolita Neimane: Prospective doctors are not sufficiently taught about nutrition

09:53, 19 January, 2016
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Lolita-Neimane2-leadAn interview with the head of the professional bachelor’s study programme “Nutrition” and academic master's study programme “Nutrition Science” of Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU), Lolita Vija Neimane (pictured), who plans to offer elective study courses on nutrition to international students of RSU and develop a bachelor study programme “Nutrition“ in English.

Which are the most important accomplishments in your position so far, while enhancing the achievements of RSU? 

I have developed two new study programmes – “Nutrition” and “Nutrition Science”, as well as a new profession – nutrition specialist.

The idea about creating the nutrition study programme at Rīga Stradiņš University came up in 2002. The beginning was quite difficult, because everything was completely new. Then nurse dietitians and diet doctors-dietitians worked in the field of nutrition. There was no such profession as a nutrition specialist at all.

In Latvia and in the Baltics, there was no such a programme and there still isn't. Many similar study programmes are implemented in Europe, especially in Great Britain and Scandinavian countries. However, we have both bachelor’s and master's study programme, and it is a unique situation, because we have no competition in this field in the nearest countries.

At the beginning, there were many unanswered questions, because we had no experience and analogy in Latvia, we had nothing to compare to. I developed the programme based on my profession – I am a doctor dietitian. Consequently, the nutrition specialist programme includes almost all the same study courses as students of the Faculty of Medicine have – of course, in smaller amounts and more related to nutrition, for example, anatomy, where digestive organs are discussed more widely. Doctors abroad usually do not deal with nutrition problems, as this is done by specialists similar to nutrition specialists we are training now.

In the European countries such nutrition programmes are divided and more specialised – there are specialists who deal with promotion of public health and implementation of nutrition policy; there are specialists who work in clinics, and those who operate in various media, making blogs; others work in private practices or fitness clubs; some develop the culinary direction, managing courses for training members of various associations of patients, pregnant women and children. Our students from RSU bachelor’s study programme “Nutrition” are taught all the above mentioned aspects. Of course, during the studies, it is impossible to learn everything in depth, for example, finesses of nutrition therapies or parenteral and enteral feeding for kidney patients or oncology patients.

The directions in which our graduates work are very different – scientific and research institutes, the Ministry of Health, private practices, health and rehabilitation centres and hospitals. Many graduates choose an academic career, become lecturers, create and participate in various European projects related to education of children and adults in the field of nutrition, other develop and manage courses, write books and blogs, etc.

What are your plans for the nearest future in order to promote the development of RSU?

We live in a time when wrong choice of nutrition and appropriate physical activities is a risk factor for many diseases. Rapidly growing obesity among children and young people, development of type 2 diabetes in the population groups where it was an extreme rarity until recent history testify to it. In my opinion, currently, prospective doctors are not sufficiently taught about nutrition, because nutrition science, as well as other fields of medicine, is growing rapidly, many previously accepted truths are changing, and not only nutrition specialists and dietitians, but also all employees within the healthcare sector shall be aware of these factors. Currently, we offer elective courses, but I hope that in the future nutrition could be also included among the compulsory courses.

Since RSU offers an education export, we are gradually thinking about the creation of a study programme “Nutrition” in English. We will start with offering an elective course in English for international medical students.

We also intend to create two new study programmes in Latvian. One of them will be a professional master's study programme in sports nutrition.

We have been deliberating about another programme for a long time now; it would be dedicated to the so called “smart’’ cooks – cooks, who in addition to preparing food, table-setting and science of commodities would also acquire the basics of anatomy, biology and physiology, who could work at hospitals, child educational institutions etc. For example, in Finland such cooks, in addition to the usual three-year education programme, specialize for one more year and only then are entitled to work in institutions where catering services are provided to children.