Qualify this

It is about time more of us demand higher standards from those who offer some kind of service, and actively seek out those who are properly qualified in what they do.

On his website, Mr Geres lists a diploma in nutrition from the UK and that he is currently reading for a M.Sc. in Nutritional Medicine, also from the UK
On his website, Mr Geres lists a diploma in nutrition from the UK and that he is currently reading for a M.Sc. in Nutritional Medicine, also from the UK

The news that personal trainer Richard Geres has been banned by the Broadcasting Authority from promoting himself as a nutritionist by appearing on TV programmes, and that TV stations have been sternly forbidden from transmitting his commercials, made me sit up and take notice. The BA statement says that it had been notified by the Council for the Professions Complementary to Medicine that Mr Geres is not registered with the Council and therefore, according to the Health Professionals Act, he cannot practice the profession of nutritionist or dietician.

It is not every day that such a clampdown is seen in Malta where regulation and standards are concerned, so this rather draconian decision has inevitably raised a lot of questions. Unfortunately, to date I have not yet been able to ascertain what exactly happened to lead to this, so I can only rely on second-hand information (although it does seem curious to me that Mr Geres was singled out and reported to the Council, when there are others who regularly promote themselves all over the media as weight loss and diet experts – are they registered as nutritionists?).

On his website, Mr Geres lists a diploma in nutrition from the UK and that he is currently reading for a M.Sc. in Nutritional Medicine, also from the UK. According to the Council website, which covers a variety of health care professions (each covered by a sub-committee of relevant experts), there are specific foreign universities which are recognized in Malta and, presumably, others which are not. To be registered (and in order to describe one’s self) as a nutritionist, one must have a B.Sc. followed by post-graduate specialization in nutrition.

By accepting (and paying good money to) those who are not qualified, we are simply making a mockery of those who are.

What I have also learned, from people who have commented on the article, is that Richard Geres has an extremely sound reputation and his weight loss advice works without any gimmicks or diet pills. Having said that, regulation is there for a reason, especially as according to the council, its aim is “to safeguard the health and well-being of the public using the services of the professions it regulates, by setting and maintaining standards of professional training, performance and conduct.”

I will not go further into the Geres case as I don’t have all the facts. But inevitably, this story has opened up a whole discussion on qualifications, expertise and the regularisation of various other fields. 

I could make a never-ending list where this kind of ambiguity, for want of a better word, exists: TV presenters/producers, actors, nail technicians, hairdressers, beauticians, musicians, singers, photographers, web designers, dance teachers and frankly all teachers in the performing arts.

Do people suddenly wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to do this”, take a short course and suddenly set themselves up with a nice little business, promoting themselves as a professional in their field? Can anyone impulsively decide they want to re-invent themselves as a whatever without so much as batting an eye? It seems so.  These are fields where no such thing as a warrant or license to practice exists, and yet the divide between someone who knows what they are doing, and downright amateurs is plainly evident.

What I always find mind boggling is that there are people who are prepared to pay good money to those who are obviously not well-qualified but are merely dabbling in the relevant field. Aren’t they able to discern the difference, or is the saving of a few Euros here and there worth putting themselves into a situation where in certain areas, actual harm could be done? In the case of nail technicians for example, I have heard horror stories of fungus and infections which are downright gruesome.

In other instances, it is not physical harm, but simply an offence to our sensibilities, such as when we hear a lazy, untrained radio or TV presenter stumbling over Maltese words, or inventing them, incapable of communicating in a coherent language.

As for those who blithely practice whatever it is they do without really knowing what they are doing, well the word “pruzunzzjoni” comes readily to mind; it is just sheer presumptuousness when someone brazenly passes him or herself off at a par with those who have studied long and hard, with years of training behind them, to get to where they are.

I’m kind of a stickler about doing things properly by the book and being well and truly trained for a job, so it always baffles and shocks me in equal measure when I see dilettantism. And this is where the authorities come in and where there really should be better regulation across the board, no matter what the job/profession happens to be. It is only by doing this that standards can be raised and consumers can be adequately protected from those who have no scruples.

Otherwise, what is the point of others studying and working hard with their nose to the grindstone to hone their skills and to gain experience, working their way up until they reach the desired level?  Might as well just do away with courses altogether if anyone can just turn around and bestow a professional title on themselves.

But of course, as always, a professional attitude needs to start with those at the top, so it doesn’t help matters when people are appointed (and they accept!) to run the various entities, boards and authorities across the island even though they are hopelessly out of their depth and don’t have the slightest bit of know-how.

It is hardly sending the right message when the government doles out high-ranking appointments to people who are absolutely not right for the job, who make a mess of things (with public money yet) and incredibly, are not held accountable.

I think it is about time more of us demand higher standards from those who offer some kind of service, and actively seek out those who are properly qualified in what they do. Because by accepting (and paying good money to) those who are not qualified, we are simply making a mockery of those who are.

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