PEN – International dietetic exchange prepares future dietitians for culturally competent practice

While the language of evidence is universal, how evidence is applied to practice can be different. An international exchange program between Wayo Women’s University (WWU) located in Japan and Brescia University College (BUC), located in Canada, provides an experience where students from each university can begin to learn about these differences.

Both WWU and BUC are all-women universities that work to empower their students to prepare them to be leaders in their chosen careers. The program began with a dream between myself and a dietitian friend working in Canada, to help students learn about leadership and diversity in practice settings. My friend introduced me to BUC; following discussions among the department heads at each university a Memorandum of Academic Cooperation agreement was signed and the program officially began in 2012!
The education the girls receive through our exchange program goes beyond the classroom to teach them about the education, health care system and dietetic practices in each country. During their three-week exchange, students are exposed to the culture, food, major health issues that are affecting the country’s health system, and dietetic education, training, regulatory, policy and practice standards unique to each country. Each year, the students have a great experience and I am very happy to be able to bring my students to Canada each year as a leader.
Moreover, my experiences in Canada have deepened my understanding of the dietetic education system, which allowed me to critically reflect on dietetic practices and education in Japan. While in Canada, I was able to speak to the professors at BUC to learn about their specific research goals and objectives and in the future we hope to collaborate in some research endeavors. I have also made connections with many other Registered Dietitians in Canada, and each year we continue to learn through our cross-cultural connections.
Registered Dietitians around the world all share the similar goal of trying to improve the health of their population. One tool that has been helpful to the students in understanding dietetics around the world is PEN®. And although English is a second language for many WWU participants, following the exchange program, many of the students learn the value of PEN® as a global resource and make strides to use it.
This exchange program has operated for the last four years, and I hope it will continue for a very long time. The maximum number of students that can participate each year is six. From BUC, there were two students in 2012, six in 2013 and four in 2014. From WWU, there were three students in 2012 and in 2013 and two in 2014. An overview of the program to date was presented at the Women’s Education Worldwide Conference in January, 2013: Increasing Collaboration and Cultural Competence of Students in Food and Nutrition Through International Exchange Programs.
This comparative program provides our profession with an opportunity to explore how we practice and educate students and Registered Dietitians within both Japan and Canada about cultural competence and dietetics. I look forward to working with the students of WWU and BUC who participated in this program, and watch them begin their careers as Registered Dietitians.

Reiko Sugiura, PhD. RD.
Wayo Women’s University

More information about the program:
Thank you to the following colleagues for their contributions to this article: Dr Alicia C. Garcia, Ms Samira Zarghami, Ms Sarah Cappuccitti and Ms Jodi Grifferty