Nutrition Connection: Expanding Knowledge Through Outreach
Erin L. Sherer, EdD, PA-C, RD
PA Foundation Nutrition Outreach Fellow
March 29, 2023
Although my work experiences and clinical interests as a PA have evolved over the years, I have always been passionate about nutrition and its connection to health. Before becoming a PA, I first trained as a registered dietitian (and still maintain my credential to this day!). Nutrition plays a crucial role in health throughout the lifespan, and I have been particularly focused on opportunities to educate others about incorporating healthy eating habits into their lives. With that firmly in mind, I applied to the PA Foundation’s Nutrition Outreach Fellowship as a chance to share my nutrition knowledge with other healthcare providers and community members in a structured and supported way.
The fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to provide nutrition-oriented education to many of my colleagues and peers across the country. My first opportunity to present occurred near the beginning of the program cycle, when I gave a “Nutrition and Wound Care” lecture at the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA) conference in Houston, Texas. It was also the first conference I had attended since before the pandemic, and I was excited (and nervous!) to be in-person again. Thankfully, the presentation was well-received, and many of my PA colleagues expressed gratitude for the inclusion of a nutrition topic at the conference. One PA who attended the presentation had many questions about nutrition supplements for surgical patients, as their practice involved frequently providing care for patients suffering from malnutrition, and they were excited to hear a new viewpoint in support of nutrition’s role. I was happy to be able to provide the PA with additional information and resources, and promised future help as applicable. Another PA told me they had little to no nutrition education in their PA program and were glad to have an opportunity to learn more. Again, extending the nutrition platform to my PA colleagues yielded immediate returns, both to the PAs and to me through my presentation of the material.
Since that first presentation in Houston, I have given additional presentations in the form of webinars for practicing PAs and PA students. I have also delivered community presentations to non-health major undergraduate students and members of my own community. While I was initially nervous to provide these presentations, I have become more confident with the material throughout the program. In fact, my own elementary-age children have heard the presentations several times, and they are now able to recite specific information about nutrition and diabetes with confidence (admittedly under duress)!
One of the unexpected highlights of the program has been the opportunity to network with other like-minded PAs across the country. Many of the program Fellows have very different clinical experiences and backgrounds, and that diversity adds value to the group collectively. When we meet as a cohort, the questions and ideas that participants bring up help us all improve our approaches to education to benefit the different populations and communities with which we are working. It has given me a fuller understanding of the many areas in which PAs provide care and how each of us has the ability to make an impact.
My favorite part of the Nutrition Outreach Fellowship has been learning, even more than presenting. Hearing from passionate, enthusiastic nutrition professionals has expanded my knowledge about nutrition. While I do have formal education and work experience in the field of dietetics, advances continue to be made and specialization requires a wider net. This program has also reinforced my roots in nutrition, and my research efforts this year have been oriented towards a greater focus on nutrition since the program’s inception. While I began with research in support of the concepts introduced in the Fellowship presentations, I found myself pursuing other nutrition topics stemming from those.
I was also fortunate enough to have a nutrition article published earlier this year, and am preparing to submit another for publication. I hope to continue to pursue nutrition research as it relates to health behaviors in women who are pregnant and in the postpartum period. I have an interest in promoting health equity, and there are many gaps in research when it comes to women’s health in general. I hope that by focusing my efforts on a population that is underserved, I can add value to the information currently available. While my research and writing efforts are only a small part of nutrition’s overall impact on patient care, it does feel good knowing I am contributing as I can to the growing field of scientific knowledge regarding nutrition.
As the program nears completion, I am thrilled I had the opportunity to be a part of this cohort of Nutrition Outreach Fellows. I’ve learned a lot since the program started and plan to continue to share my nutrition knowledge with family, friends, and future patients.