Saturday, January 30, 2010

What's it like to be a dietitian?

This afternoon, I received this comment from Kendra:

Renata,

I discovered your blog searching for "a day in the life of a dietitian". I'm going back to school and I'm seriously considering becoming a dietitian. I've done research on the education and job description of a dietitian but what I really need is a first hand account of what your average work day might be like. Can you describe the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career? Thank you for this informative and inspiring blog.

Thank you Kendra for writing and I have decided the easiest way to address you questions would be to write up this post. This also will be helpful for others who are looking into becoming a dietitian too.

A day in a dietitian's life can be very different because there are a lot of ways to be a dietitian. One reason it is a great career choice is that it can often use your previous experiences and talents. For example, I found that my most fulfilling jobs before I was a dietitian was related to teaching. It turns out that my focus as a dietitian involves educating and facilitating. However,
I have not been practicing in the traditional career sense. It is much easier to describe a day in the life of a homeschooling mom at the moment. I'm not sure you'll get the answers you expected, but read on... you'll get your answers.

First, here are some things you need to consider:
Why are you thinking about dietetics? What is it about dietetics that interests you? And right now, how do you envision a day in your life would be if you were a dietitian?

Then, if you haven't already done so, read my post from the blogfest I co-hosted last year on National Registered Dietitian's day. There you will find links to at least 20 other dietitians showcasing their careers. If there is something about it that interests you, contact them too (if you haven't already).

I also encourage you to seek out dietitians in your area. I interviewed an RD at a local long term care (LTC) facility for my college's Junior English assignment. I asked similar questions you did and found it very helpful. I also decided that I didn't want to work in LTC. The RD I interviewed was wonderful, but the job description was not for me.

What is most rewarding? Being part of someone's journey towards healthier living. This can be done in simple ways, such as sharing a recipe that meets a dietary goal. Or it could be more elaborate, such as teaching a class. Given that people can't survive very long without food (and they will live better with good food), nutrition can be incorporated through daily living such as friendly conversation, community connections, etc. At this point of my life, my interaction is too limited to seek compensation. But there is plenty of opportunity out there for those who seek it.

Speaking of compensation, that is also the primary challenge. The average salary of a dietitian is quite modest compared to the level of education we have received, and we are lagging far behind other allied health professionals in insurance reimbursement. That being said, I think we are our greatest challenge. Marketing ourselves is a topic that deserves its own attention, but in a nutshell we need to learn the distinction between showcasing our work and showing off. The good news is that there are many dietitians meeting this challenge, and ready to support and encourage one another in the process. This is how the idea for the RD blogfest was born, and most likely why my blog ended up in your search results.

Well, I hope this has answered some of your questions. By what I was able to glean from your questions, you have been out of school for a bit. That is to your advantage as you have had more time to reflect upon what you want to do and you will be able to direct your experiences towards those goals. (Keeping in mind that goals and objectives get tweaked along the way.)

Hopefully, other dietitians and other nutrition professionals will chime in with their comments or write their own posts too.

Best wishes to you and to your future!

35 comments:

  1. Hi Kendra,
    I am a RD that works in a Long Term Care community. We have Independent Living, Assisted Living and a small Skilled Nursing facility. Years ago when I became a Dietitian I didn't think this was the type of job I wanted. However, now that I am a Mom of 3 young boys in addition to my work as an RD, I have found Dietetics to be an extremely flexible and rewarding career for me as it allows part time work and lets me spend the appropriate time with my family as well. I hope you ask around a lot of RDs to see the huge variety we have in jobs and so many different avenues you can pursue. Most of my friends are extremely envious of my ability to work part time and be home when I am needed here as well! Good luck! Jill

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  2. Hi Kendra!
    I am a grad student working toward my MS in Nutrition and completing the DPD undergrad requirements. I have one additional year of courses, then I will apply for internships! After many hours of volunteering and shadowing dietitians, I have found I am fascinated with maternal and child nutrition! I am seeing a lot of progress with the significance on guidelines associated with pregnancy and nutrition! Once I become an RD, I am interested in starting out directly in this branch, but know I need to stand out from others to be able to just 'choose' what I want to do! What advice do you have for a student trying to pave her way into prenatal and infant nutrition? Where would you start? What (if any) extra credentials do you recommend working toward? Thanks so much and I am excited to find your blog, as I hope to gain lots of practical information!

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  3. I am so sorry Renata! I looked above my post and I typed the wrong name! Please forgive me! : )

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  4. Hi Kendra,
    There are so many ways to look at a career in Dietetics depending on your personal interests partly because the field of nutrition and health is so vast! I would first figure out what area interests you: maternal and child health, pediatrics alone, long-term care and/or geriatrics, nutrition as a form of preventative care or as a supplement to the treatment of disease states (chronic and/or infectious), sports nutrition etc... Also are you interested in domestic or international developing country nutrition? Finding the answers to all of these questions would lead you down a career path that is distinct and unique! On top of this series of questions is the exploration of programs themselves. Many programs for nutritionists are ADA accredited and therefore follow closely to ADA regulations (and are therefore very thorough but also somewhat traditional and allopathic in nature). There are other nutrition masters programs that are not ADA accredited and can therefore be more flexible in the curriculum. I am currently the director of the soon-to-be online Masters in Applied Clinical Nutrition at New York Chiropractic College. We have the advantage of being able to explore nutrition as a form of therapy and explore topics like herbology and Drug-Induced Nutrient depletion as a culprit for many symptoms for people in a state of dis-ease. Going both the dietetics route a well as the general nutritionist route has its advantages and disadvantages. What path you pick depends completely on your geographic and financial restrictions, the nutrition path you want to take (want specific topics interest you), what area of nutrition you would like to work in and ultimately where you would like to work. This may have raised more questions than it did provide answers but at least I hope it helps you in your search. Good Luck!

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  5. Hi Lindsey, great questions.
    Here is an excellent site about dietetic internships and career developmenthttp://www.allaccessinternships.com
    Also consider coordinated programs. I graduated from Univ. of North Carolina and it was well worth it. Check out also the traineeships available (very very valuable)
    Maternal and Child Health Nutrition Traineeships
    Maternal and Child Health Public Health Traineeships

    LEND Training Program (for disabilities. GREAT interdisciplinary exposure.)
    I had to keep it short, but feel free to ask any follow up questions via email. I am only addressing the public health side of it.

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  6. I am dietitian who works in long term care at nursing homes as well as home health. My average day consists of assessing new admissions and current residents for weight changes, appropriate diet, looking at their lab values to see if there needs to be any interventions changed, looking at food-med interactions, as well as assisting dining service.

    My most challenging days consist of young patients with bad luck and poor quality of life due to a particular disease or condition. For example, I have worked with a young woman in her early 30s with Stage IV ovarian cancer. It was very difficult but I focused on making her last weeks enjoyable through food.

    In the end stages of life, we lose our independence and sometimes dignity due to disease states, however we can still enjoy our meals. This is the most rewarding experience, proving healthy, good tasting meals with dignity and independence in an enoyable atmosphere.

    I also am one of the few people who may ask about diarrhea and constipation and will really make a big difference in these both uncomfortable conditions with diet changes as well as medication changes.

    I love being a dietitian and we need more passionate dietitians out there! I encourage you to give it a shot; we all eat and need nutrition!! We will always be in need.

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  7. I have had a variety of jobs during my career from running hospital cafeterias and catering, mentoring and training employees and coordinating dietary department transitions to computers to name just a few.Currently, I work one day a week consulting in LTC and am working for a company that does food safety evaluations and training for the hospitality industry as well as general QA work. As the other ladies have said, it is a very flexible field and can meet a variety of interests. I can honestly say that I have never been bored. It is a constantly changing and evolving field. Good luck.

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  8. Hi,
    I'm an RD that telecommutes now. I travel quite a lot lately with my hubby, but work with clients an other RDs via phone and email. My clients are ones that get the MRT (Mediator Release Test) and then follow a personalized elimination diet based on their blood test results. I work mostly with clients with migraines, IBS, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. I also travel a few times a year to speak at state dietetic meetings about what LEAP/MRT is about and how it can help other RDs build their practices. (www.nowleap.com for more info - or Renata can give you my contact info!)

    Now, I've been an RD since 1982. It my past, I've worked in Long Term Care, hospitals, done Home Health Care, been a consultant in drug/alcohol rehab, prisons, jails, supermarkets (doing tours), WIC, public health, subcontracting RD services, as a media rep (TV, radio, newspaper columnist) and more. I've also been a private practice RD with clients coming to my home office or me seeing them in their homes.

    Being an RD has given me many choices and options over the years! I've always loved doing this work (except for being a "bench tech" at a human nutrition research lab - the second most boring job of my life.)

    Jan

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  9. Hi Renata,

    I am very glad to know about this blog.

    You mentioned that you are an alum of UNC-SPH. How was the coordinated program at UNC for you as a mom of three kids? Did u go full-time or part-time? How were you able to make things work around your family's schedule? And did you meet other student-moms like you in class? I mean, reading your blog has really inspired me to go into dietetics. Just like you, I am a wife, a homeschooling mom, and a prospective graduate student. However, I heard grad school is really expensive. Does UNC have any grants or scholarships for incoming students? Pls, advise.

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  10. About UNC-CH:

    I was actually pregnant with my first child when I received my master's degree. However, I was working part time throughout the process. I commuted 95 miles four days a week to get to school and work and home. They did work with my schedule (my job had flexible hours too), but I still was required to have a full time load. I recall meeting some mothers in the Maternal and Child Health major, but in nutrition I only remember on PhD student. Everyone else was pretty much finishing their degree if they became a parent. I did have a full scholarship as of my second semester through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (mentioned in a previous comment). I heard about the traineeship from the ADA Courier (newsletter from the American Dietetic Association). Ask up front about scholarship opportunities at the university you would like to apply to, even before you apply. If you are considering UNC-CH, email me directly at nurturingnotes AT gmail DOT com and I'll give you some more details.

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  11. Kendra,

    As Renata mentioned, the great thing about becoming an RD is you are ONLY limited by your own imagination! I started my career out of school in the traditional setting. I loved what I did, working as a clinical dietitian in a hospital. And I specialized in nutrition support, which is feeding patients who are in comas.
    But what I went to school for was to start my own business, so in 1996, I quit the hospital and started my first business, MEG Fitness. I provided in-home personal training and sports nutrition counseling to adults.
    In 2003, I started my life coaching education to add to my services, and thus started MEG Enterprises, coaching other health and fitness professionals who want to start or grow their business.
    Thus you have a picture of something VERY non-traditional, with the background of a nutrition education and an RD.

    I also like what Renata said: Be clear WHY you would want to go this path? What is it about this path that is important to you? What is your ultimate vision for yourself, your life, your career?

    Margie

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  12. Thank you Renata and everyone for your comments! They have all been very helpful. There was a common thread that stood out to me in all your comments; That to have a passion for food, health, and helping people is a prerequisite to pursuing a career in nutrition science. Check, check and check. Also, Margie, your website is fantastic!

    Kendra

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  13. Kendra, stay true to what you have a passion for, and focused on your vision, and you'll make the right choice. Glad you like the site; there are a lot of free articles to read, so browse around! Then, one day, when you're ready, contact me for coaching!

    Margie

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  14. Hi Renata,

    Have u seen my e-mail? I look forward to your response. I already sent you an e-mail at nurturingnotesATgmailDOT.com

    TOKS.

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  15. Hi Toks,
    Sorry to not get back to you sooner. I've had a sick child and not much time to get you a thoughtful response. I've been meaning to write back this weekend. I just saw that you wrote back checking to see if all was OK here. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Speaking of thoughtfulness, I should have let you know so that you wouldn't wonder if you had the right email. Lesson learned :-)

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  16. Hello,

    I am a representative from 20th Century Fox movie studios. We are very interested in working with you and your blog, http://nurturingnotes.blogspot.com/, for upcoming film promotions.

    Thanks so much for your help!

    I look forward to hopefully working with you in the near future!

    Please contact me at anytime at adolce@alliedim.com.

    Thank you!

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  17. Hi Renata,

    I'm currently a 3rd year student studying Biomedical Science. I'm enjoying the course, but I'm pretty sure that all it leads to is research, research and more research... which I don't think I'd be fond of, as I'm much more of a people person. I've been considering going into the field of dietetics after I graduate, as I hear it's a very fufilling job, flexible hours if I ever want a family in the future, and incorporates food and science; two things I'm very passionate about.

    However, I want to make sure I'm not getting a glossed over view of what being a dietitian would be like. I heard it involves a bit of biochem; not one of my favourite subjects.. would you see this as a problem for me? And what exactly does a dietitian do in terms of providing food for patients? Is it mainly just looking at their biochem and deciding what food they can and cannot eat, or do they have any roles in going down the the kitchen, picking the food themselves or even cooking?

    Here's a general question, maybe you could list the best and worst parts of being a RD? I want to make sure I have a balanced view.

    Also, I notice you grew up in Australia; that's where I live. Do you have any idea of any differences between being a RD in the US as apposed to being in Aus?

    Sorry for the long post! Thank you in advance.

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  18. Hi Sarah,
    I will get to answering your question in the next few days. Please check back.

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  19. Hi Sarah,

    Forgive me if my answer seems a bit sloppy, but I'll do my best to answer your questions:

    Biochem is essential, but you won't be using it as you probably are studying it right now. It will, however, give you a fundamental understanding of metabolism that will be very useful. I don't have to map out the Krebs (Citric Acid) Cycle, but I do know what it is about and how it is applied to nutrition.

    What does a dietitian do for patients: Well, it depends on the setting. In general, dietitians do not prepare food for their patients, but that doesn't mean you cant! For a distribution of settings dietitians in Australia work in, see this link: http://www.daa.asn.au/index.asp?pageID=2145833452

    I can't think of any additional best and worst parts of being a dietitian that is not already in my post. And what is a negative for me is often a positive for others. You will have to find your fit.

    I don't know the differences between being and RD in the US vs Australia, other than the standards may vary. But a brief overview of the Dietitians Association of Australia website makes me think that there is a lot in common.

    I would encourage you to seek out a dietetics education program and ask them some of these questions. Also, try to contact some dietitians in you area to learn about what they do and see what you like.

    I hope this helps!

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  20. Hi Renata,

    Thanks for your response! It did help. I think what you said about the Biochem makes it seem a bit more manageable; I've never enjoyed going into the in-depth specifics of biochem and physiology, at the molecular level, but I think learning the principles and more importantly, how it is APPLIED will be much better :)

    That graph was also very insightful. It's important to have a realistic expectation of what work will be like. And I don't imagine working in a hospital, where you get to interact with a lot of different people would be too bad :D For the private practise though; would you need prior experience in running a business/knowing how all the administration works to set up your own clinic? I'd think so...

    I will continue asking as many people as I can for their opinion. The more I know, the better decision I can make. Although everything I've heard has been very positive so far :)

    Thank you again!

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  21. You're welcome, Sarah!

    re: private practice experience

    Prior experience helps, but not necessary. Here in the US, The American Dietetic Association has a practice group for nutrition entrepreneurs and they provide great support for set up. And there are career coaching service such as MEG Enterprises

    I checked the DAA website but couldn't get to their interest groups because access is restricted to members. But put a search for "interest groups" on their website and you will have an idea of the different groups there are. Then you can contact the national office and ask for a list or contact information. Just a thought.

    Cheers!

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  22. Cheers Renata! It's good to know that this is a viable option for people who are not so business-minded haha. I typed in "interest groups" on the website, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking at that I can access.. It's alright though, I just wanted a general overview into this option :)

    Thanks!

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  23. Hi, I found this post while searching for information about becoming a dietitian. I think I would mostly be interested in nutritional counseling, meal planning, and addressing specific health concerns. I am very passionate about nutrition, but not sure I want to do it for a living.

    Thanks, Renata, for making this post, and to everyone who has commented!

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  24. reptilegrrl,
    Thank you for your sweet comment. I wish you all the best.

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  25. Hi Kendra

    The most difficult part of becoming a dietitian, is being accepted into a internship. I have waited for two years, doing work experience in hospitals. Working as a diet tech, tray line supervisor, WIC Nutritionist and etc.

    I finally got accepted into an internship after spending hundreds of dollars applying to at least 10 to 12 programs. Each program costing as much as $35 to $90 for individual applications.

    Not to mention the $50 for D&D digital and finally the $40 for the 1st acceptance for DICAS and $20 for others internship that a student apply.

    After you become accepted into an internship they can cost from 10 thousands to 40 thousand if receiving a master degree.

    However, I'm excited about doing something I love to do, teach nutrition and finally become an RD!

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  26. Anonymous,

    Congratulations about being accepted into a program!

    The internship matching and the costs involved is a very important part to consider and I'm glad you brought this into the discussion. I agree that it is the most difficult part of the process. In my senior year, an unprecedented half of the graduating class did not get matched (myself included). We were a pretty large class too, so there were many of us. Some of us became an RD, others just moved on with their lives, or changed professions (like Physician Assistants, etc).

    I had a 3 year hiatus until I started grad school. The coordinated masters program was a very good fit for me. I think I would have lost myself if I had followed the traditional route. The coordinated program allowed me to have a more individualized approach to my career advancement and those years out of school helped me figure out where my interests were. But the cost is an important issue. I would not have moved forward if I couldn't afford it.

    Thanks again for sharing.
    All the best,
    Renata

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  27. Hi! I'm a dietitian from the Philippines and so far, I have no clue where to go next after passing the board exam in our country. Although, I have a great affinity for nutrition science and have established a passion for it, I am still confused as to what to do next. I'm weighing my options of whether to become a physician first and be nutrition practitioner or to take graduate studies in nutrition?

    Being a prominent figure in the field, I wish to ask for your advice with regards to the matter. I would greatly appreciate a reply from you.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous from the Philippines,

      I'm sorry I have taken so long to reply.

      Becoming a physician or going to grad school are both viable options, but will they take you where you want to go?

      Here are some fundamental questions to consider:
      What are you most passionate about in nutrition? AND
      How do you think you will most effectively share that passion with others?

      Best,
      Renata

      Delete
  28. HI! I'm currently receiving my undergrad in Health Science and then want to go to graduate school for dietetics. I am extremely interesting in nutrition! Was chemistry and biochem a major part of your degree?

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  29. Hi bnoons,

    Yes, chemistry and biochem makes up a big part of the degree.

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  30. Hi Renata (and anyone else that wish to respond),
    i am in my 40s and i am one of these people that still dont know what they want to do when they grow old... but lately i am thinking of becoming dietitian because i will love to help people. i will enjoy educating people and introduce them to different options that will improve their lives. but i am not big on biology and chemistry and it looks to me like you need to become almost a physician to be able to do this job. do you think i should still go for it? or do you think my lack of interest in chemistry will be too big of an obstacle?
    thanks for your honest opinion.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Liat,

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I can't tell you how much of an obstacle it might be. Maybe these subjects will be more interesting to you now, especially if it is more relevant to you.

      Delete
  31. Hi Renata,

    I'm currently a freshman in college and trying to find some kind of direction to go in with my studies. I have always been very interested in food and how it affects the body, so I have been looking into becoming a dietitian. This post was very helpful in giving me some insight as to what the career is actually like. Thank you for sharing your experience and advice!

    Emily

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  32. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

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