Latina and Black Women's Perceptions of the Dietetics Major and Profession
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Racial and ethnic groups remain underrepresented in undergraduate health profession education programs and careers, such as nutrition and dietetics (Sullivan, 2004). Overwhelmingly, 82 percent of dietitians are White, three percent are Latino/Latina, and less than three percent are Black (Commission on Dietetic Registration, 2016). While the calls to increase recruitment of underrepresented minorities are plentiful and federal dollars are allotted to the effort, a critical lens is necessary to investigate the complexity of factors that impact the decision to pursue a career within dietetics. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to investigate how Latina and Black women enrolled in an undergraduate Health Career Opportunity Program (HCOP) narrated and reflected upon the dietetics profession. Through the lens of Critical Race Theory and situated learning, I sought to understand the sociocultural and historical underpinnings that hinder or promote career selection. Data collection methods included participant observation, interviews, artifacts, and reflexive journaling. Data were analyzed using inductive coding techniques. My findings revealed the ways in which Latina and Black women believed dietitians must match the socially constructed role model for body image, physical fitness, and healthy eating to be effective in practice. Using a critical media analysis to confront the stereotypical images of dietitians, the women used cliché messages as a selected discourse to mask perceptions of barriers to the dietetics field. Finally, the women believed a dietitian’s professional role was to give diet advice which presented a barrier to the profession. Based on my findings I support early introduction to nutrition science as a means to empower individuals to support their health and the health of their community. Recruitment efforts must explicitly address the culture of dietetics which has embraced the stereotypical image. Collectively, the dietetics field must consider the relationships between nutrition experts, schools and communities to advocate for historically and contemporarily marginalized and disenfranchised groups.