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Hospital dietitian on matters of life, death and diet

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

As Clinical Nutrition Manager at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Julie Katz has spent six years assessing  the nutritional needs of a diverse patient population with a variety of medically driven nutritional needs. Her job includes communicating with each patient’s health care team to implement the best nutrition care plans. I spoke with Katz this week about her role and the challenge of sifting through an ever-growing mass of new research in her quest to meet the nutritional needs of a population that comes with a high rate of serious illness.

What are the special challenges you deal with?

Trying to teach patients how to sort through the massive amount of “nutrition” information available in the media and to help them determine reliable sources and what is relevant to their health and well-being.

Are you seeing any trends or changes in the dietary needs of hospital patients? If so, what’s driving them?

Nutrition is an ever-changing practice with new research each day. We try to keep up on the latest research to provide our patients with the most current recommendations. Unfortunately, hospitalized patients are typically sicker individuals so we have always had a high incidence of medical problems including diabetes and age-related diseases.

Does your job include educating patients on the best diets based on their medical conditions? If so, how do you do that?

Our assessment includes a comprehensive evaluation of the patient. During that evaluation, we determine if the patient would benefit from diet education based on their current conditions and past medical history. We then provide medical nutrition therapy and specific nutrition recommendations based on the patient’s disease state. Some of the diets we teach include heart healthy, diabetes, renal disease and gastrointestinal disorders.

Are there common misconceptions patients have about healthy eating?

There are so many fad diets currently that patients all have their own ideas of what is considered healthy. We have had patients ask about everything from magic weight loss pills to detox diets, the Atkins diet, etc. In those situations, we do our best to teach an evidence-based, healthy diet that includes portion control, variety, and specific disease-related recommendations.

Does your job include educating hospital staff on nutrition issues?

We provide in-services to various departments throughout the hospital, including the medical staff, nursing, and students/residents. We also educate through our cafeteria by hosting a weekly farmers market in the summer months with information and recipe sheets for each produce item available and by posting signs designating healthier meal options.

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Photo credit: esolla via iStockphoto