Brescia student aims to diversify dietetics

In a multicultural society like Canada, the lack of diversity among dietitians has been a major issue, an Esraa Aly Naguib Hassan is working to change.

Hassan, an undergraduate nutrition and dietetics student at Brescia University College in London, Ontario, has partnered with US-based company Diversify Dietetics to provide mentorship support to diverse students looking to enter an industry that plays a important role in the formulation of nutritional recommendations. The company’s mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the field by empowering leaders of color. The program pairs diverse dietetics students with experienced mentors to support their academic and professional journey to provide adequate nutrition to a diverse population.

“In Canada, we are a very diverse population, but when you see the statistics and the number of Canadian dietitians who actually come from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, you’ll find that number doesn’t represent the population,” Hassan said. , who is in her fourth year at Western University’s affiliated women’s college. “It is very important that we work to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the field so that we can better serve the diverse population of Canada.

Although there is a dearth of comprehensive data, it is reported that more than 10,000 registered dietitians in Canada are predominantly white women.

Hassan reached out to Diversify Dietetics co-founder and program director Deanna Bellany and shared her desire to establish a Canadian version for Brescia students. With the intention of carefully building the program from the ground up, the goal for the first cycle of the program is 15 dietitians with their respective mentees. The mentors themselves do not have to be people of color as long as they express an awareness and understanding of the issues around diversifying the field.

Originally from Egypt, Hassan completed a pharmacy program in his home country before coming to Canada to study dietetics. In her pharmacy experience, she has recognized that patients can have better health outcomes when nutrition is front and center in their treatment plan.

“When you provide people with culturally appropriate solutions, you’re not only practicing ethically, but also ensuring the sustainability of what you’re doing,” Hassan said. “Fortify it, increase its health benefits and just let them (continue to) consume it as part of their diet.”

She earned a full academic scholarship from an organization called Daughters for Life, which awards educational funds to two or three Middle Eastern women each year. Over the past three years she has worked to broaden her experiences in her field by serving on several boards and with St. Joseph’s Health Care in London where she works with dietitians with the same intent.

Able to find a mentor for herself, Hassan can already see the benefits. His mentor recommended that he join the Western Heads East program via Brescia. Hassan has been a researcher with the program since the summer of 2021, helping to provide culturally appropriate solutions to nutrition issues in East Africa.

The student application process for mentees opens in June this year.

Mentorship is crucial in the field with a need for students to gain the knowledge and experience needed for postgraduate placement and masters studies. Mentoring also helps students improve their skills and decipher their specific areas of interest and concentration.

One of the core competencies at Brescia is for students to develop social awareness and engagement in their ability to respect and be open to cultural, religious, and political diversity to expand social justice. Hassan says she has taken personal responsibility to actively engage and help create positive change in her industry.

“I could see through this experience that socially engaged students are able to develop solutions for different aspects of issues and problems,” Hassan said. “I want to get involved in this in order to induce societal change because it is one of the skills that Brescia prepares us for in the classroom and outside.”

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