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The adage goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s an apt description for what Bond University Master of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice students have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the global pandemic started to impact daily life in Australia, Bond University had to quickly adapt to new ways of providing professional placement opportunities. 

Professional placement makes up a significant part of the Master of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice – specifically, 24 weeks of the two-year program. With some placement opportunities being cancelled due to effects of the pandemic, Bond’s Nutrition and Dietetic Practice Program Leads worked with the Australian Dietetics Council and the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (US) to use the extraordinary circumstances to provide students with highly relevant experience in the world of telehealth. 

“COVID-19 has raised many global challenges, but it’s also led to many innovations in the healthcare industry, including nutrition and dietetics,” says Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Christina Turner. 

“Being able to offer clinical services remotely has been incredibly valuable, and our students have been able to continue their placements while gaining experience in what will be a big part of the future of healthcare.” 

Students completed daily telehealth consultations, conducted via Zoom. Designed to replicate the clinical working environment, students consulted with volunteers who received an online dietetic consultation tailored to their particular health condition and circumstances. 

“The consultations were supported by simulated written cases, where students could be assessed by an Accredited Practising Dietitian on each and every case,” explains Assistant Professor Turner. 

The virtual consultations included an online ‘waiting room’ where patients were greeted by a staff or student and then placed into another virtual room for the consultation. 

The overall experience was similar to a face-to-face consultation, says Assistant Professor Turner, but it challenged students to build rapport in a new way. 

“They have to practise hard to build rapport, which can sometimes be a bit more difficult to do online,” she says. 

“They have to make sure their camera and microphone are working correctly, that they have adequate light in their space, as those issues can affect their ability to connect with their client if they don’t get it right.” 

While it wasn’t the way she expected to complete placements during the semester, telehealth consultations gave the students, including Georgia Spry, an entirely new experience in clinical practice. 

“I feel as though I learnt more in the two weeks of telehealth consultations and simulation than I would have if I remained in my onsite placement,” says Georgia. 

“I really enjoyed the wide variety of patients and cases I was exposed to, the one-on-one feedback and the opportunity to self-manage my time and learning.” 

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