Esraa Aly Naguib in the lab at Brescia. Photo courtesy Esraa Aly Naguib

Brescia student aims to diversify dietetics

By 
  • March 12, 2022

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

Hassan, a nutrition and dietetics undergraduate student at Brescia University College in London, Ont., has partnered with U.S.-based Diversify Dietetics to ensure mentorship support for diverse students looking to get into an industry that plays an important role in making nutrition recommendations. The company’s mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the field by empowering leaders of colour. The program pairs diverse dietetics students with experienced mentors to support their academic and professional journey to provide proper nutrition to a diverse citizenry.

“In Canada we are a very diverse population but when you see the stats and the numbers of the Canadian dieticians that are actually from culturally and religiously diverse backgrounds, you will find that this number does not represent the population,” said Hassan, who is in her fourth year of study at the women’s university affiliated with Western University. “It’s very important that we do work in order to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the field so we can better serve the diverse population of Canada.”

While there is a shortage of comprehensive data, it’s reported that Canada’s more than 10,000 registered dieticians are predominantly white women.

Hassan reached out to the co-founder and program director of Diversify Dietetics Deanna Bellany and shared her desire to establish a Canadian version directed towards Brescia students. With the intent to carefully build the program from the ground up, the goal for the first cycle of the program is 15 dieticians along with their respective mentees. It is not a requirement that the mentors themselves are persons of colour as long as they express awareness and understanding of the issues related to diversifying the field.

Originally from Egypt, Hassan was in a pharmacy program in her home country before coming to Canada to study dietetics. In her pharmacy experience she recognized patients can have better health outcomes when nutrition is emphasized in their treatment plan.

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

She obtained a full academic scholarship from an organization called Daughters for Life, which grants educational funding to two or three women from the Middle East annually. Over the past three years she has worked to expand her experiences in her field by sitting on a number of boards and with St. Joseph’s Health Care in London where she is working with dieticians with the same intention.

Able to secure a mentor for herself, Hassan can already see the benefits. Her mentor recommended she join the Western Heads East Program through Brescia.Hassan has been a researcher in the program since the summer of 2021, helping provide culturally-appropriate solutions to nutrition issues in East Africa. 

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

Mentorship is crucial in the field with a need for students to gain knowledge and experience necessary for post-graduate placement and masters’ study. Mentorship also helps students enhance skills and to decipher their specific areas of interest and focus.

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’s taken personal responsibility to actively engage in and contribute to creating positive change in her industry.

“I was able to see through this experience that socially-engaged students are able to develop solutions for different sides of problems and issues,” said Hassan. “I want to involve myself in this in order to induce societal change because this is one of the competencies that Brescia prepares us for in the classroom and outside.”

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