Nutrition support professionals (NSP) are dietitians, pharmacists, nurses, and physicians who are specialists in providing and managing enteral and parenteral nutrition in diverse patient populations, from pediatrics to geriatrics. They may work either independently or as part of a nutrition support team. The NSP can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, home-care agencies, long-term care facilities, research facilities, and academia.
NSPs become so by caring for patients who require provision and management of enteral and parenteral nutrition while utilizing approved standards and guidelines to deliver that care. The NSP seeks out resources and colleagues to share knowledge and experiences. NSPs learn through on-the-job training and by networking with other NSPs and organizations such as the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN). Most take advantage of a variety of resources and publications to ensure evidence-based practice, and some attend traineeships or fellowships specially focused on nutrition support. Many take a certification examination to solidify their credentials in nutrition support and advance in their careers.
Continuing education is crucial to the practice of nutrition support therapy. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to join an NSP organization. ASPEN provides various continuing education opportunities, including conferences, peer-reviewed journals and online learning. ASPEN also offers leadership and volunteer roles as well as opportunities to network with others in the field.
Roles of Nutrition Support Professionals
Multiple healthcare practitioners are involved the delivery of nutrition support. Their unique contributions are outlined below.
Nutrition support physicians lead the nutrition care implementation structure in many institutions. These physicians must be familiar with all aspects of nutrition care, including patient screening, assessment, development and implementation of a nutrition care plan, patient monitoring and termination of therapy. Nutrition support physicians supervise care provided by dietitians, nurses and pharmacists, and engage in all aspects of direct care of patients’ nutrition needs as indicated.
Physician Assistants (PA) are nationally certified, state-licensed medical professionals. PAs practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. They practice and prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories, with the exception of Puerto Rico. PAs often practice in specialty areas or primary care and are able to prescribe nutrition support therapy along with medications, treatments, and diagnostic tests related to nutrition support therapy.
Nutrition support dietitians' primary roles are to conduct individualized nutrition screening and assessment; develop and implement a nutrition care plan; monitor the patient’s response to the nutrition care delivered; and develop a transitional feeding care plan or termination of nutrition support as appropriate.
Nutrition support pharmacists compound the parenteral nutrition formulation prescribed and provide direct patient care. In addition to this, they manage the specialized nutrition support program and improve quality by educating other health care professionals, students, patients and caregivers. Many pharmacists also conduct research or participate in research activities.
The responsibilities of a nutrition support nurse vary with the practitioner’s educational background, position and practice environment. The scope of practice includes but is not limited to the following: directing patient care including intravenous access; education of patients and caregivers and participation in research activities.
Nurse Practitioners (NP) are nationally certified, state-licensed, advanced practice nurses. Not all nutrition support nurses are nurse practitioners, although many are. Nurse practitioners often practice in specialty areas or primary care and are most often able to prescribe nutrition support therapy along with medications, treatments, and diagnostic tests related to nutrition support therapy. They also participate in transition of care planning.
What is Nutrition Support Therapy?