Baar, 21.03.2024

Trust plays a big role in nutritional advice

This year’s Central Switzerland Health Professions Week (Zentralschweizer Woche der Gesundheitsberufe) is from 16th to 23rd March. A nutritionist explains what motivated her to take up this activity and what excites her about it.

As early as her schooldays, Vanessa Zanini found her interest in biology, nutrition and the human body. “I'm fascinated by how everything works together. I was curious from a very early age and wanted to find out more about it,” says the 25-year-old. She finds fulfilment in helping other people, and was looking for a healthcare career. But when it came to choosing her training course, she didn't have to look around for long before she came across the Bern University of Applied Sciences (Berner Fachhochschule), which is one of the three institutions in Switzerland that offers training to become a nutritionist; with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics.

She will complete the ten-month internship, which must be completed as part of this training, at the Zug Cantonal Hospital in Baar up to July 2024. She reports on her experiences with a smile and noticeable enthusiasm. “I feel in good hands here. On the one hand, I have the opportunity to put what I learned during my studies into practice and, on the other, I learn to value the collaboration with doctors, patients and nursing staff,” she says.

As a nutritionist, you work in the hospital after a doctor has referred a patient, both in an inpatient setting and on an outpatient basis. “Patients often come to the hospital without a directly obvious diet-related illness, but examinations reveal symptoms that can be traced back to diet, and thereby make the recovery more difficult and prolong the hospital stay.”

Nutritional advice can be necessary for various reasons: diabetes, cardiovascular problems, an eating disorder or malnutrition are just a few examples. “Through the conversation – and also based on certain measurements – a doctor can easily estimate when a referral to us makes sense,” she adds. Diet is the cornerstone of health and many diseases can be positively influenced by adapting it.


Vanessa Zanini works a lot with illustrations to make nutrition topics tangible       
She will complete her training in the summer                       Photos: Mathias Blattmann


Creating trust to ensure success
The native of Ticino describes the consultation process as very individual. The important thing is to build a relationship. “The fact that a patient has trust in me is crucial for the success of the treatment,” she emphasizes. Because many strategies and goals are developed in personal discussions. That's why she learned different communication methods during her training, in order to get in touch with people. Listening attentively is particularly important to the prospective consultant: “I want to get to know and understand the person I’m talking to.”Although the nutritional recommendations are individual, the thing  they all have in common is that they’re based on science. “I’ve learned a lot and am constantly keeping myself up to date,” says Vanessa Zanini. One of her core tasks is to communicate scientific findings in an understandable way.

For example, she works with the plate model. An illustration shows which nutritional components, such as vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, belong to a balanced meal. At the same time, it shows which macronutrient is in which food: or example, she explains that rice is a source of carbohydrates.

Balance does not mean doing without
This development of the plate model is part of an intensive collaboration. The contact with people is her favourite part of the work. “Every consultation is different. Although we are all confronted with nutrition every day, it differs from person to person. Creating a better awareness of a balanced diet gives me a lot of joy,” she says with a smile.

At the same time, she describes this individuality as the biggest challenge. And: because there is nowadays more access to information, she has to defend the scientific consensus against misinformation. She also attaches great importance to science: even after completing her studies, there is an obligation to continue training.

In doing so, she also learns about the major challenges that exist when it comes to nutrition. A balanced diet is made more difficult by the increase in processed foods and the increase in stress. Which leads to more illnesses.

She herself pays attention to a balanced diet - with all her knowledge, it's almost impossible to do otherwise. Which doesn't mean, for example, that she completely avoids sweets. Within reason, these can also be part of the diet. “Balance, as conveyed to patients, is a question of quantity.”

Enriching training
It has not yet been decided where Vanessa Zanini will continue to work after completing her studies. But she would like to stay in central Switzerland, and she also wants to improve her German skills, as she adds.

One thing is certain for her: Pursuing her fascination with nutrition and the human body during her training was the right decision.