March is Nutrition Month and it took me the whole month to write this. I’m writing this post to provide a little insight on what a Registered Dietitian is, how to become one, and the pros and cons of this profession.
The journey towards becoming a Registered Dietitian wasn’t easy, and when I was a student deciding on which career path to take, I wish I had someone’s transparent perspective on this career option including the necessary steps to take as well as the pros and cons about this profession. This was my motivation behind today’s article, and with it being the last day of Nutrition Month the timing couldn’t be better.
My Journey Towards the Field of Food and Nutrition
When contemplating career paths as an adolescent, my caring parents gently nudged me towards the math and science fields. While for many years I imagined myself working as a dental hygienist, things suddenly changed when I entered my last year of high school. I suddenly fell in love with cooking, devouring cookbooks and magazines with beautiful images of perfectly styled food and delicious recipes. Much to my mother’s distaste, I wasted a lot of food experimenting with my own recipes. I was also fascinated by how food impacted our bodies and health. Antioxidants, fat soluble vitamins, the glycemic index oh wow! Once I learned that you could make a career out of food, nutrition and food science, I was all in.
I attended Brescia University College in London Ontario for my bachelors degree in nutrition and dietetics. I learned about biochemistry, physiology, business, psychology, cultural food courses and more. Many students who take the nutrition program are “type A” over-achievers, making it a very competitive program and about half of the students who originally enrolled in the program transferred to a different degree by second year. The other thing about my university experience, was the haunting idea that all of this could be for nothing.
After your degree, you are not yet a Registered Dietitian, you must also land and complete a ten month practical internship, and pass the board exam. Not every undergraduate nutrition student gets accepted to an internship program and becomes a Registered Dietitian. You have three years after your degree completion to get accepted by an accredited internship program. At the time of my graduation year only about 40% of students were accepted to a placement.
I failed to get an interview my first year of application. A huge upset for me and my high functioning anxiety. My reaction was heartbreak, resentment and uncertainty as I had no more train tracks to follow; where was I to go next? I ended up serving tables for a couple months, and then I landed a job at a hospital.
Working at a Community Hospital
I spent the next year working two part time jobs: food service supervisor and diet technician at a small community hospital. I was finally able to apply some of my classroom learning! I attended rounds, saw patients, charted, made up meal trays, nourishments, and worked on an interdisciplinary team. I am so grateful for this experience as it gave me two important things: a strong reference from my RD manager, and the experience I needed for my second year of internship application. I would recommend for any RD2be’s out there to find yourself a food service or diet tech related job because internship programs are looking for someone who is competent at managing problems and understanding daily foodservice activities.
After interviews with three different programs, I was accepted to my first choice and moved to Toronto.
Internship programs are typically about 40 weeks in length of full time work. This experience was transformative and I don’t think I’ve learned at such a rapid rate during any other time of my life. I was supervised by a different RD with each different rotation. Rotations were switched every two to four weeks, making for none stop change. To give you an idea of my experience I had the following rotations:
- Food service (I worked on projects for the foodservice department of the hospitals I interned at including waste audits, new product sensory evaluations, patient satisfaction surveys, research, meetings and employee arbitration).
- Public health (I worked with a preceptor at a community health centre on classroom presentations, community events, poster presentations and nutrition counselling of newcomers to Canada. I also learned how to design implement and evaluate a public health program designed to educate the targeted population).
- Clinical (I attended rounds, assessed, implemented an evaluated my nutrition care plan for inpatient rotations of renal, neurology, diabetes, transplant, and outpatient eating disorders).
Internship was a fantastic year. I’m so grateful that my cohort was with seven other gifted RD2be’s to discuss, vent and share the experience with. Over this year I learned to be humble, and extremely self reflective.
Study, attend, pass.
My day job
I’ve been working predominantly in outpatient counselling during my day job. A typical day in this life looks like:
- Administration: I check emails, respond to patient questions and schedule appointments. (This is about two hours per day.)
- Nutrition research: I check out the latest nutrition research applicable to patient cases and questions. I may also correspond with other dietitians on case questions. This research may also include surfing the net and social media platforms to see what’s trending so I can forecast the next questions that my patients may bring to session. (This is about one hour per day.)
- Coaching patients: I see anywhere between two to six patients per day on any given day. I check in with their health status, read the doctors notes, and ask how they have been progressing with the homework I assigned. Everyone’s outcome goals are different so each person has different priorities. It’s a privilege to work with patients one-on-one everyday and I wouldn’t be learning nearly as rapidly has I do if I didn’t have my patients to challenge me.
Foods and Thoughts is my media brand. I have reconnected with my original loves of recipe development, food styling and photography. Working in the media whether it be blogging, YouTube, television, radio, or social media in order to share nutrition information has a far bigger reach than one-on-one coaching. I also happen to be an extroverted personality with a background of visual arts and drama so media work is the perfect fit for my career in the nutrition field.
Writing on Foods and Thoughts has become a great outlet for me to clarify ideas, and strengthen my messaging. Writing also happens to be very relaxing (though time consuming, I take three to eight hours to finalize articles). My preferred subjects to write about are more opinion pieces, discussions on self improvement subjects, and strategies for behaviour change.
Thinking of becoming a Dietitian? Here are my Pros and Cons of Working in the Field of Nutrition.
- Confused public: The bane of my existence is the constant source of public confusion and fear surrounding food and nutrition. Nutrition is a novel area of research, this means that new studies come out all the time, however, once people begin commenting on the implications, incorrect messages are spread and the repercussions are months of confusion. I wasn’t aware of the size of this challenge during my undergrad. Everyone likes to have a say when it comes to nutrition (especially since we house the attitude that everyone is entitled to their opinion) people ask their siblings, friends or internet personalities about their nutrition questions because they either, don’t know where to go for a trustworthy source, or they find a website or social media influencer to get their information from. The worst part about this is some of these sources use scare tactics as clickbait, leaving RDs to coax the public out of their food phobias.
- False prophets: In Ontario, the only regulated nutrition experts are Registered Dietitians. The term “nutritionist” is not regulated (just because you see “registered” or “certified” doesn’t mean this person is regulated; check and see if there is a college regulating them). Most people are not aware of the difference between RDs and “nutritionists”. Regulation means that someone is policing a profession in order to protect you, (the public) by ensuring safe, ethical and evidenced based information is provided by the practitioner. Some “nutritionists” share incorrect information which is frustrating for myself, as they have no one to answer to and there is no way to really stop this.
- Food police: I sometimes avoid answering the question of “what do you do?” because of the reaction I typically get: “Oh don’t look at my lunch today then! Ha! Ha!”. Just to make things clear, I am not the food police, I have seen and heard everything as far as what people eat, I don’t get emotional about what you eat (especially if it’s my leisure time) because I’m a professional. You maybe have a friend or family member who acts as a member of the food police, your RD is definitely not one.
- Respect: Leaving university I was so excited to imagine the difference I was going to make in the world; I was going to make a difference! However, I noticed during internship and once I started working that RDs aren’t as necessarily as well respected in hospital and medical facilities as I imagined. In hospital people think we just visit picky patients to change the apple to orange juice on their diet order (that’s someone else’s job), and as I mentioned above, the public is totally confused as to who we are. You have to be assertive to get your concerns heard and help your patients.
- Perspective: Nutrition and the everyday decision of what to eat has become ever more confusing. Working in the field, I have the most updated resources and information at my fingertips which has been a blessing for my own life and eating choices. Everyone struggles with the same concerns, however so many of these concerns are not warranted and generally overcomplicated. You know you’re an RD when you don’t fret about macros, calorie counting and you most likely don’t even think about nutrition after work.
- Relatable: Everybody eats! Food is the common denominator despite our differences. Food is tradition, culture, love, social and a delicious way to explore the world.
- Flexibility: The field of food and nutrition offers many different career possibilities including: managing foodservice operations, food product development, writing, teaching, hospital clinical work, outpatient coaching, public health, government, consulting, media work and brand partnerships to name a few possible paths.
- Continual learning: There are so many ways to continually develop your skills and knowledge. Business, clinical or media based courses run by fellow RDs are coming out of every direction. It’s a great way to continually improve and keep things interesting. Not to mention, the research on nutrition is always changing so there is always opportunity to learn.
- Supportive communities: Even if you work in private practice, there are some fantastic online communities where you can ask questions, share resources, and just vent! I am so appreciative of the great communities developed and it’s wonderful how we support each other.
- Rewarding: Helping others gain the confidence to manage their health by taking control over their eating habits is so rewarding. People who are genuinely ready to change and are willing to try something new are a joy to work with.
What interests you about the field of nutrition?
Are you an RD and do you have any pros and cons to add to my list?
What area of practice would you want to work in if you became an RD?