Why and How I Became a Registered Dietitian:
The Long and Short of It
I'm trying to think back to when I first even heard of a Registered Dietitian! If you've ever read my About Me page, this story will not be new to you. But if you haven't, then sit back....my mom was diagnosed with Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis when I was about 11. She spent many, many weeks at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX. She would go for a week or two, and then come back home for a while, and then go back for treatments. On one of her visits back home, she told me how a Registered Dietitian had come to see her in the hospital. Mom was telling me that the dietitian told her that she needed more potassium in her diet. She talked about all of the reasons why and all of the different foods that were high in potassium, and I remember being really interested, but not enough to talk about it anymore! I know that I had never really heard of a dietitian, but I do remember exactly what my mom said. She said, "Jen, you should be a dietitian. You would love that. You are so smart and you love to help people and talk to people, and I thought of you when she came in!" (like all moms, she thought I was the bomb.com!) Anyway, I heard her, but my 11 year old self didn't really listen to her. The last thing on my mind at 11 was what my career was going to be for the rest of my life.
8 years later
Well fast forward about 8 years, and I was a Sophomore at Louisiana State University (LSU). I had entered LSU majoring in Business, but after a few accounting and super hard math classes....I was out. I had to decide something because I had a year and a half of college under my belt and I didn't want to not use all of the hours I had earned thus far. So, I did what any good clueless college student would do, I took out the LSU Catalog (yes, we had big books that listed all the degrees and classes-no computers-no online). I started flipping through the catalog and just reading the descriptions of the different courses offered at LSU.
Nursing classes - no way!! I cannot do any gross situation, bodily fluids or FEET!
Education - I actually thought about being a teacher for a hot minute, but decided that I am not the most patient person, so kids weren't the best for me to spend day in and day out with (Plus I never wanted to get married OR have kids!). I mean the classes looked fun, but actually teaching the rest of my life was not going to happen.
Psychology - I am really interested in psychology and I love to see how people tick. I like to give advice and get inside people's heads and know all of their business. I don't know why I didn't major in psychology. The only thing I can think of is that N comes before P in the alphabet, so I came across Nutrition & Dietetics before I came across Psychology!
Nutrition & Dietetics
When I came across Nutrition & Dietetics, it's like the clouds opened and I heard angels sing and all was right with the world. Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but as I read the descriptions of the classes for that degree I thought, this is right up my ally. Food, food and more food? Awesome. There were some food science classes, some cooking classes, a few labs, some classes about chronic illness and what part nutrition plays in it....I could keep going but you get the idea. All of that sounded really interesting to me, and I guess I figured if I was interested in it , I would stick with it and try my hardest. And I did! But I had no idea how much was involved in obtaining this degree!
First of all, I was fat....like not obese, but probably 50 pounds overweight. All those beers and 2 a.m. cheeseburgers and fries showed themselves proudly on my bod! And when you are majoring in nutrition, and you're fat, you kind of get the sideways stares and a few eye rolls. I mean I like to eat and I like to eat real food. So, I would sit in class with other girls who were munching on 2 carrots and 6 water bottles, while I probably had some M & M’s! But, I continued on my little path to becoming a dietitian.
Secondly, I couldn't cook. Like COULD NOT COOK A THING! Never had to cook. I lived at home until I was 17. I moved to LSU and ate in the dining hall my freshman year, then lived in my sorority house for the next three years (where they had cooks make breakfast. lunch and supper!). So I never had to cook, therefore, had no idea how to cook! When I started some of those cooking classes at LSU and food science classes, I was so lost - and everyone could tell! I muddled through I guess and did well enough to make it LOOK like I knew what I was doing.
After I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, I had to do a Dietetic Internship. This was a 9 - 12 month internship with NO PAY! Yes, I said no pay. There were only certain places that offered a Dietetic Internship, so you had to apply to these places and hope you got accepted into one! I ended up going to Louisiana Tech University to do my internship, and when that was finished, I had to take a National Certification Exam which then made me a Registered Dietitian.
I know so many dietitians who say they would never recommend to anyone to become a dietitian. But, it has been a great career for me. There are so many avenues you can take within dietetics and I have hit 3 of them! When I finished my internship, I started a job with WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). This is considered working in the community sector and I loved it. I certified pregnant women, infants and children from 1-5 years old for WIC and gave them nutritional counseling. It was a great job. I loved getting to know the families and still, 24 years later, see some of the patients I met there. I worked there for 6 years, and when I became pregnant with my 2nd child, Emily, I didn't return to work after I had her.
Fast forward a few years, and I decided to go back to work. I ended up working at Pinecrest Supports and Services - which is a residential home for developmentally disabled individuals. Some of these individuals had lived their entire lives at this facility, and it was like a little town within a town. This was considered working in the clinical sector. This was mainly assessing patients based on their anthropometrics (ht, wt, labs) and recommending a diet for them and a plan of care. I followed the same group of people for 10 years. My patients were mostly the medically fragile and I spent a lot of time figuring calories, protein and fluids for tube feedings. I learned a lot doing that but after 10 years, decided to pursue a different avenue.
Four and a half years ago, I left Pinecrest to go work at the Rapides Parish School Board. I am the Registered Dietitian there and a Food Service Supervisor. This is considered the management sector. I have worked harder at this job than any other, but it has been definitely more satisfying. What I do everyday makes a difference. We are constantly, keeping up with USDA guidelines, making menus, ordering groceries for the schools, obtaining foods for special diets, ordering equipment and overseeing personnel. We have 47 schools and the director and I supervise about 400 employees. It is tiring but very rewarding.
Another sector of dietetics is consulting. Over the years, I have consulted for many long-term care facilities. These facilities don't need a full-time dietitian, but do need to contract one out for so many hours a month. Their responsibility is to assess high risk patients, and to review the food service system monthly. This has been an excellent source of extra income for me and given me an entirely different work experience. Some dietitians do consulting full-time. They have 5 or 6 facilities that they contract with, and just visit them so many days throughout the month.
So, as you can see, there are so many opportunities for Registered Dietitians. They aren't just in the hospital anymore. They are in the community, in the schools, in doctor's offices and long-term care facilities. I also think that the need for dietitians will only increase. Health and weight loss are huge in this country and people spend billions of dollars every year weight loss programs and nutritional supplements. This is only going to become of greater importance as the years go on.
It has been a great career for me, and I think it would be great for anyone who is interested in nutrition. You know, if they are 'smart and love to help people and like to talk to people"! They always say mama knows best...I guess in case, it's true!
Happy Dietitian Day!