Learning DC in three days

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January 18, 2013 by yuiweng

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At the second week of January, our whole class went to DC for the Nutrition Policy Seminar. These topics include the legislative process, national prevention strategy, government role in nutrition education, nutrition labeling, child and school nutrition programs, and international nutrition initiatives. The wide variety of experienced public nutrition experts expanded my knowledge in policy making process. It was a really great experience to have a real life exposure to public nutrition at the early start of our carrier. There are several things impressed me the most during this three days.

The first thing is: Don’t be afraid to work with people who hold different opinions. It is not the difference but the consensus that will push things forward. On the second day of seminar, we had experts coming from both government agency and industry representatives. Although different stakeholders have distinct interests in nutrition policy and do not agree with each other on various issues, at the end of the day, people still learn to compromise and value the importance of what they have in common.

 Second thing is: If you are passionate about something, be patient and persistent.  Because the slow and complicated nature of policy making process, it takes around 10 years to pass a bill. Nutrition policy professionals take healthy eating as their lifelong mission and advocate for it. Most experts in our panels did not have the perfect jobs when they first got out of school. Their first jobs may or may not relate to nutrition or public policy, yet they are still persistent to follow their interest and belief in nutrition policy. It also involves different stakeholders so nutrition policy professionals learn to deliver their messages depends on who are they talking to.   

Third things I learned from this trip are evidence and great communication skills matters a lot. Scientific evidence is essential in introducing new policy and also serves a way to evaluate existing policy. Government agencies like USDA and CDC are backbones in pushing nutrition research and policy formation.  Therefore their roles in producing evidence based nutrition practiced materials are especially important. For nutrition professionals, the ability of interpreting updating evidence and communicate within your target population is definitely what we need to learn in future practice.

Also the general political system is different in Asia than in United States. I was surprised by how honest people can talk about their conflict of interests and the opened permission of tradeoffs.  I guess this is the real difference between western and eastern culture that it’s okay to reveal your interest as long as you make great arguments.

One of thing that surprised me the most is their political language. Most of my school and training experience are in scientific settings like medical school and hospitals. It is rarely for me to be exposed in an environment where there is no definite answer. Often times I will be confused by questions without definite answers especially when people are making circular reasons. Guess the survival guide to live in this world is to be flexible and friendly to both your friends and foes, if any.

 

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