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Views of the dietetics profession on communication skills for behaviour change in dietetics

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There is strong evidence to suggest that the communication skills of the practitioner are an important factor in helping people to change health-related behaviour (Najavits & Weiss, 1994; Stewart et al., 2003). Despite this, many UK dietitians perceive their pre-registration training in communication skills to be inadequate (Rapoport & Nicholson Perry, 2000). Many new courses have recently been approved by the Health Professions Council, and the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has recently undertaking a curriculum review for dietetic training. This study aimed to explore the current views of the dietetic profession in relation to their training in this area. Methods: 

A cross sectional survey was completed in October 2007. All BDA members (n = 6013) were sent a questionnaire to ascertain their views on communication skills for behaviour change in dietetic practice and relevant training. The questionnaire had been piloted on dietetic colleagues and comments received from an expert on communication skills for behaviour change. Approval was obtained from the University of Nottingham Medical School Research Ethics Committee. Results: 

There were 1158 respondents (19% response rate) of whom 418 (36%) had qualified since 2000. All countries within the UK and a wide variety of specialist areas were represented. Some communication skills training had been completed by 89% of respondents. Communication skills were rated as either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important by 96% respondents. There was no difference between those who had qualified before the year 2000 and those who had qualified since. Respondents agreed that implementing communication skills had led to improvements in their relationships with patients (70%), job satisfaction (59%) and confidence in client interviews (69%). However, 21% felt time keeping in client interviews was worse. Time was also identified as a barrier to putting learning into practice (19%). The majority of respondents (89%) felt they would benefit from further training. Discussion: 

The results must be viewed in light of the relatively low response rate. However, respondents clearly endorsed the importance of good communication skills in practice and had personally experienced positive outcomes because of their use. Despite their positive attitude, the practice of good communication was felt to have had a negative effect on time-keeping. Unsurprisingly, the majority of participants wanted further training. Conclusions: 

The negative effect of introducing changes of practice to improve communication skills upon time-keeping was a major concern for BDA members. Further research and training is required to support the implementation of improved communication skills within the recognized time constraints of dietetic practice. References 

Najavits, L.M. & Weiss, R.D. (1994) Variations in therapist effectiveness in the treatment of patients with substance use disorders: an empirical review. Addiction 89, 679–688.

Rapoport, L. & Nicholson Perry, K. (2000) Do dietitians feel they have had adequate training in behaviour change methods. J. Hum. Nutr. Diet.13, 287–298.

Stewart, M. et al. (2003) Patient centred medicine: Transforming the clinical method, 2nd edn. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Biosciences, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK 2: School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, UK Kirsten Whitehead, Email:

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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