Practice Paper: Critical Thinking Skills in Nutrition Assessment and Diagnosis

Volume 115, Number 11, Page 1545 (November 2013)


The Nutrition Care Process and Model (NCPM) provides registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) and dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs) a framework to recognize, diagnose, and intervene upon nutrition-related health concerns. Within the NCPM, nutrition assessment is essential to develop a comprehensive evaluation of the client’s nutrition history. The application of critical thinking skills to nutrition assessment is imperative to ensure appropriate acquisition and interpretation of data. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Career Development Guide, adapted from the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition, illustrates the progression of critical thinking skills as RDNs and DTRs gain knowledge and experience with practice. The Career Development Guide is characterized by the transition through the following stages: novice, beginner, competent, proficient, and advance practice/expert. The foundation of dietetics knowledge is obtained during the novice and beginner stages. Throughout, the primary objective is introduction of the NCPM and nutrition assessment theory via dietetics education and the application of nutrition assessment in supervised practice. Next, RDNs and DTRs transition to the competent stage of practice. During this phase, entry-level knowledge and skill are applied to patient care settings and critical thinking skills develop as RDNs and DTRs gain experience. Subsequently, RDNs and DTRs move to the proficient stage as the ability to prioritize attention, generalize, apply problem-solving skills to new scenarios, and identify innovative solutions develops. Some RDNs and DTRs may transition to the advance practice/expert stage during which critical thinking becomes intuitive. Critical thinking skills are essential to ensure diagnostic accuracy; however, more research is needed to further describe progression of critical thinking skills among RDNs and DTRs.