Dietetic education: Assessing competence in public health nutrition

A cross-sectional study exploring the different roles of individual and group assessment methods in assessing public health nutrition competence

Palermo et al., JHND Early View


Competency in the practice of public health is essential for dietitians, yet little is known about credible and dependable assessment in this field. The present study aimed to investigate the role of individual and group assessment tasks as elements of a public health nutrition competency-based assessment system.


Assessment performance data from 158 dietetics students (three group tasks and one individual task) who had completed a practical placement learning experience in a public health nutrition setting were examined using nonparametric techniques. All 158 students were deemed individually ‘competent’ on completion of the placement.


The median mark was significantly lower for the individual compared to the group task, with a greater range of marks achieved in the individual assessment. There was a weak relationship between individual and group marks for the whole cohort (n = 158) (Spearman’s rho correlation coefficient = 0.193, P = 0.015). Bland–Altman analysis showed that the mean (SD) agreement between the two assessment tasks was −5.9 (17.7) marks. Systematic bias between the two tasks was also demonstrated, indicating that students with the lowest average mark of the two assessments scored lower on the individual assessment task compared to their group task and those who had a higher average mark scored higher on the individual group assessment compared to their group task.


Student performance in public health differs between individual and group assessment. Individual assessment appears to differentiate between students, yet group work is essential for the development of teamwork skills. Both should be considered in the judgement of public health nutrition competency.

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