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Two senior nutrition majors step up to diversify dietetics in Nashville

Undergraduate students establish Nashville's first chapter of the national organization Diversifying Dietetics.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078  | 

Alexis Trice (left) and Erika Robles (right)

While still in the midst of their undergraduate studies, two nutrition seniors are already taking steps to advance their future chosen profession by establishing a local chapter of a national organization called Diversifying Dietetics.

Alexis Trice (pictured left), of Antioch, Tennessee, and Erika Robles (pictured right), born in Ecuador but now a Nashvillian, stepped up to gather local dietetics students and professionals together in September to network and share ideas about diversifying the profession.

Diversify Dietetics is an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the field of nutrition by empowering students and young professionals from underrepresented minority groups to join the next generation of nutrition experts.

According to the organization’s website, it is the only organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the profession that is inclusive of all ethnic and racial groups. It also has a focus on using social media to build its community of students, professionals, and educators in the field.

Trice and Robles coordinated a “meet-up” of various undergraduate nutrition students from Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee State University, local registered dietitians who work across the state and dietetic interns.

“The overall response was great,” said Robles. “Everyone has a lot to say about the topic of diversity in dietetics, and everyone has a unique story to tell. The general response was that a lack of diversity has affected us all in some way, whether it was lack of confidence, lack of resources or general discouragement.”

Specific issues discussed at the first meeting included career barriers that practitioners who are minorities often face and stories of how professionals overcome those barriers; comments on how My Plate, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s nutrition guide on the five food groups, does not fit all cultures, failing to acknowledge how some food can be part of a patient’s cultural identity; and how to stay confident during the dietetic internship.

The professionals answered many questions for the students, and contact numbers were shared all around to begin an ongoing networking group for the cause, Robles said.

“This field is definitely one where you need connections and guidance, because the process (of becoming a registered dietitian) is pretty arduous,” said Trice.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2017 Compensation and Benefits Survey, “The demographic profile of [nutrition] practitioners is essentially unchanged since 2007.”

Trice and Robles were very aware of this lag in diversity from the beginning of their college careers. As freshmen, they were the only two students of diversity who had declared a nutrition major, they said.

When Trice found the Diversifying Dietetics organization online and shared the information with Robles, it was “exciting and refreshing to know that something like that existed for us,” said Robles. “It can be overwhelming, so it was nice to know of an organization that can help.”

Robles and Trice have learned the negative impacts of cultural differences on patient care firsthand on the Lipscomb-sponsored mission trip to Destin, Florida, to work at the nonprofit Hope Medical Clinic.

In professional practice, cultural differences can cause a language or literacy barrier or hesitancy on the part of the patient to openly share symptoms and experiences, which could negatively impact patient care, Robles noted.

“Some people may not even know what a dietitian is,” said Robles, who found herself having to explain the profession to a lot of friends and family when she chose nutrition as a major.

“As of right now, we plan to continue hosting meetups every spring and fall, even after we graduate from Lipscomb,” said Robles. “It is our plan to turn this into a monthly group in Nashville to simply create a space where dietetics students and registered dietitians can come together and discuss topics important to us.”

Robles and Trice both hope to apply and be accepted into Lipscomb’s Dietetic Internship after graduating in May. Robles wants to work in a hospital setting and Trice plans to go into private practice.