05 Jun 2020

This blog is based on a video featuring Elaine and Duane that you can watch here.

Tell me a little bit about your role as a dietitian and your role in medical education

The unique dietetic nutrition research and education role I hold (Elaine), was developed for Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), by Dr Kathy Martyn who teaches nutrition at BSMS, the School Of Health Sciences (Nursing and AHP) and on other nutrition courses based at the University of Brighton. Together, Kathy and I recently formed the Education and Research in medical Nutrition Network (ERimNN), linking educators, students, patients, agriculture, producers, public health and the third sector; to share resources and increase the capacity of nutrition education. We are also part of the Nutrition Implementation Coalition, a partnership of four organisations, NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, Culinary Medicine, Nutritank and ERimNN.  Its aim is to widen the evidence-based conversation around food and health for the benefit of patients, as explained in this Nutrition Implementation coalition short animation. 

One advantage of employing a dietitian is to connect to a wider network of nutrition specialists, such as those who work in areas like kidney care, oncology, neurology, intensive care (ICU), paediatrics and sports etc. This also helps to ensure medical students are grounded in where nutrition is relevant to clinical practice. This allows the students to appreciate the wider roles and responsibilities of the multi-professional team (MDT), as well as the crossover and links between the professions.

Where do you think nutrition fits within medical education?

Nutrition is a key component of basic sciences and clinical practices, relevant to pre and post clinical training. As such the General Medical Council (GMC) recognises nutrition as a key element of patient assessment and care. Our nutrients are key to physiological and biochemical pathways. Also, a poor quality diet is a major risk factor for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and strokes.

Dietitians are often not a frontline service, we rely on doctors and nurses to identify nutritional problems. Sometimes first-line advice and support are enough. But it is also important to know when you can use social prescribing (a referral on to community programs) and when more specialist help from dietitians is required.

NICE clinical guidelines often include nutrition and lifestyle changes as core elements. But the findings from the paper: Time for nutrition in medical education, published last month, showed that many UK doctors did not feel confident to talk to their patients about food, or know when to refer a patient on to a dietitian. We want to improve medical students’ understanding and confidence in nutrition, so as doctors they can appreciate the role of good nutrition, alongside medical and pharmacological treatments.

Nutrition is influenced by our psychology, culture, environment and socioeconomic circumstances. Nutrition is not just telling (or nagging) people about what to eat; but it is about how to facilitate, motivate and collaborate with patients to make healthier food choices. We believe this is a great way to practise patient-centred care.

Indeed, research from Australia and the US tells us that patients trust their doctors to be able to advise them on food. GPs in the UK tell us that patients are asking more questions about their diet. So it is imperative that they keep up to date with the latest research and ensure they are applying the most current evidence base while being careful to respect individual differences and medical needs.

Nutrition, therefore, is not a stand-alone subject but should be integrated into medical specialities. In Brighton (Elaine) we teach nutrition within core modules on cardiology, gastroenterology, bone health, public health, renal, paediatrics, general practice and in symposiums on topics such as obesity, among many other areas. We also supervise student research projects and student-selected components (SSCs). We have seen students present their research at national and international conferences and they have published papers, such as: NICE targeted screening to identify gestational diabetes: who are we missing? We have two additional papers on nutrition assessment within dementia care and the potential role of pro and prebiotics in depression treatment coming out soon.


As healthcare professionals, we all need to consider the importance of correct nutrition for patients at risk of or recovering from the coronavirus. But beyond the current pandemic, it is imperative that going forward, we teach medical and healthcare students about nutrition and its role in patient care.

BDA Blogs


Elaine MacAninch RD

Nutrition Lecturer, Research and Education Dietitian, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Dr Duane Mellor RD

Senior Teaching Fellow, Aston Medical School