Dietitians in South Africa require more competencies in public health nutrition and management to address the nutritional needs of South Africans

20 May 2015

The aim of this study was to determine whether dietitians in South Africa are competent to meet the requirements of working in a health care setting during a compulsory oneyear community service (CS) program immediately after receiving their degree. A national survey was conducted using questionnaires to illicit information from dietitians on their training and competencies. In 2009, data were collected from both community service dietitians (CSDs) participating in community service programs in primary, secondary and tertiary health care centers in all provinces of South Africa, as well as from their provincial managers (nutrition coordinators). Sixteen (100% response) nutrition coordinators and 134 (80% response) dietitians participated in the quantitative survey. The majority of the CSDs reported that, overall, their academic training had prepared them for most aspects of nutrition service delivery. However, some recommended that academic programs include more training on community-based nutrition programs and in delivering optimal services to under-resourced communities as they believed that their competencies in these two areas were weakest. Furthermore, many CSDs were required to establish dietetics departments where none had previously existed; consequently, their capacity in management and administration needed improvement. In conclusion, academic training institutions should align their programs to the transformation of the health sector in South Africa by ensuring that dietitians are empowered to provide optimal public health nutrition services in under-resourced communities.