Establishing an international dietetic footprint

Establishing an international dietetic footprint

23 Nov 2016     By Brad Stauffer | CEHS Director of External Relations

Helping another country enhance its dietetics training system was not on Linda Young’s radar. Young, associate professor of practice and director of the dietetic internship program in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, was plenty busy preparing the next generation of registered dietitians right here in Nebraska. But she is also active in her professional organization, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Through that relationship and the group’s accrediting agency, she was asked to lead a site visit to United Arab Emirates University which was working toward a “foreign equivalency” designation for its dietetics program.

Young completed that unique assignment in 2014, but her engagement in the Middle East was just getting started. Shortly following her trip to Al Ain, UAE, she was talking with leaders at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. UNMC had developed a collaborative partnership with the Oman Ministry of Health and was training Omani men and women to be doctors and nurses. The conversation turned to training dietitians.

“I mentioned that I had recently done a site visit at UAE University, and UNMC asked if I’d like to go to Oman,” said Young. Before she could think about it, she was saying, “yes.” So, in the fall of 2015, Young found herself meeting in Muscat, Oman with Hamood Al-Kharusi, the acting director general of human resources development for the Sultanate of Oman and the Ministry of Health.

“It’s a pretty steep learning curve to help someone from another country understand our education system and help them envision what their goals need to be,” said Young. “The level of practice is different in Oman. In some ways it’s comparable and some ways it’s not comparable.”

Oman decided they wanted to explore the foreign equivalency designation, which essentially says the program is comparable to an accredited dietetics program in the U.S. To accomplish that objective, the program must be directed by someone that is a registered dietitian. The RD credential can only be earned in the U.S., so the Oman Ministry of Health sent two Omani women to Nebraska who enrolled in the dietetics program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Campus of Sultan Qaboos University
The campus of Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman. (Photo courtesy of Sultan Qaboos University website.)

Oman, located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, sits at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It’s a long way from Nebraska, but Amaal Saleh Al-Aamri and Ruqaiya Khalfan Al-Sulaimani were up for the challenge. They had the support of their country and the support of other Omanis in Lincoln. Oman has been sending people to Nebraska for several years to be educated in architecture and engineering, so a sizeable Omani community already existed in Lincoln.

“You really have to admire them,” says Young of her two Omani students. “I can’t imagine being brave enough to leave their country to do this. It’s quite a commitment.”

Al-Aamri and Al-Sulaimani are on schedule to complete their supervised practice (dietetic internship) in the spring of 2018 and earn their RD credential. Establishing their program of studies has been a bit complicated, says Young, because of the differences in Omani dietetics training and what is required at Nebraska. While they sorted out what courses were needed, the women enrolled in an intensive English language program last year to enhance their language skills.

Young says Al-Aamri and Al-Sulaimani are doing well in their studies. During spring break last year, Young took the women to Omaha to observe RDs at work at UNMC. It was a smart move, said Young, because the experience served to motivate them.

“It put some reality into them and showed them how dietary practice differed here in the United States,” Young said. “It gave them some motivation that they could go back to Oman and could teach these skills.”

The plan is for Al-Aamri and Al-Sulaimani to use their new knowledge and skills to help Sultan Qaboos University enhance its dietetics program and to elevate dietitians in Oman to a greater level of respect and responsibility. As that unfolds, Young will take a bit of pride that she’s been able to influence and shepherd this process. It was not something she ever expected to be doing, but it’s been rewarding both professionally and personally.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re in the U.S. or in Oman, it’s all about improving the lives of other people and families and improving their wellbeing,” says Young. “It’s been interesting to learn their perspectives, and it underscores that we’re all much more alike than we are different.”

Linda Young, associate professor in Nutrition and Health Sciences, with her two Omani graduate students, (L-R) Ruqaiya Khalfan Al-Sulaimani and Amaal Saleh Al-Aamri.
Back to CEHS Connections