Fairfield University’s Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies is set to become the first Connecticut school to offer a doctorate in clinical nutrition program.
The program, which will debut in September 2020, will be available in either a three-year, full-time initiative or a four-year, part-time program offering. Admission to the program is open to students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, with required prerequisites.
The program is in the initial phases of accreditation with the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) and the university expects the process to be completed by next summer. According to Meredith Wallace Kazer, dean of the Egan School, the program culminates a process that began in 2014 when the school sought to expand beyond its longstanding academic slate.
“Five years ago, we began to explore what other programs could complement our very effective nursing offerings,” she said. “We began with public health — that was the first major we added and we enrolled our first class last year. We also added social work at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Nutrition was another area that we felt would complement our interprofessional team and we began exploring it several years ago.”
Kazer explained the new program would take advantage of recent changes that have shaped nutrition education while adding elements to reinforce student leadership abilities.
“The program features rigorous coursework starting from basic food safety and principles of nutrition all the way through community and clinical nutrition, with experiences in the community area delivering nutritional care,” she continued. “It culminates with higher-level competencies in leadership, evidence-based practices, business management — all of those skills that will guarantee that a dietician will be successful in whatever clinical environment they will be in.”
Kazer stated the introduction of the program is coming at a time when health care professionals are giving more credence to the value of nutrition in the healing process.
“As nurses, we know the impact of nutrition,” she said. “That has not been integrated into the plans of care as we had hoped. We see a population that is continuing to live a longer life and we are seeing the effects of nutrition on that life span. There is a much closer view of the role of nutrition, all the way from infants up to adults. These students will not only be the ones practicing evidence-based care, but they will be the ones reviewing it and making sure products have impacts and good outcomes, and then deciding whether that is something that should be implemented into the plan of care for a healthy lifestyle.”
The program will also work with the surrounding communities, which Kazer said are in need of information on the health benefits of proper nutrition.
“People are really clamoring for this information,” she said.
Kazer said the Egan School has received numerous inquiries from students around the country. She acknowledged that relatively few schools offer a doctorate in this subject, but she is hopeful other institutions will follow the university’s lead.