As I wrap up the last of couple of weeks of graduate school (!!), I have been alternating between moods of exhaustion and reflection. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I have learned while going to school to be a registered dietitian nutritionist.
For some background, my undergraduate degree is in public health. During my junior year, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career as a dietitian. Since a masters degree is not required (yet) to be a registered dietitian, often times people who do not have an undergraduate degree in nutrition will opt to do post-undergrad work to get all the classes required to be an RD (referred to as DPDs). However, I knew I wanted to get my masters degree and Winthrop University makes it relatively easy to both at the same time. Keep in mind this means my schedule was not the typical grad school schedule, I took 14-16 hours and had many day time classes. Luckily, my undergrad was bachelors of science, so I took care of about half of DPDs in my undergrad.
Here is a short list of things I’d tell someone who is considering becoming a RD:
Getting an internship is competitive: To be an RD, you must complete an internship that lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Most are 9 months, full-time, and unpaid. The internship provides valuable experience with rotations in basically all realms of dietetics. However, as right now the acceptance rate for internships is 50%. This doesn’t mean it is impossible, it just means that you might have to try more than once. Getting field experience as well as doing well in classes will go a long way! I was fortunate to find an RD who took me on in my first year and helped me to get ample experience at a long-term care facility. Working at a diabetes camp was a great help too!
The expenses add up: tuition, books, academy memberships, vaccines for the internship, gas for traveling to all the places you’ll volunteer. I don’t say this to deter you, but to warn you. Make sure you have a good idea about the costs before you go all in. It has to be something you really want!
^make friends with budget-friendly legumes
Forget your fads, stick with the science. Dietetics is a medical profession, so it uses evidenced-based practices. In school, we did not do a lot of discussing on topics that are not grounded in research. Terms like “super food” and “detox” are not used frequently.
“Needs more research” is a phrase you will hear over and over and over. The field is relatively new, so there are many things, like vitamins therapy for cancer or chromium for insulin resistance, that are evolving as we gain more insight. The field is ever-changing, i.e. for the longest time eggs were thought to raise serum cholesterol, but now it looks like dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol aren’t a causal relationship. You have to keep an open mind and not be too frustrated when current thinking changes. It’s rather fun to be in a cutting edge field!
There is so much variety– clinical nutrition, diabetes education, research, public health, counseling, food service, marketing, sports nutrition, long-term care… the list goes on. As you complete your studies, you may discover a passion for something you didn’t know existed. My passion is in counseling, but I am keeping my options open, because I truly love (most) all of it.
Sometimes you will just learn things for the test. If you are like me and opt to do graduate school concurrently with the required undergrad classes, time will be limited. Sometimes you will not be able to remember everything you learn. This may be disappointing, it was for me at first, but remember once you are in your field of choice, you will be able to absorb everything like a sponge.
It’s not always glamorous. If you imagine a career of helping individuals who want help and are passionate to learn about nutrition, you might have a hard time finding it. Being a dietitian is tough, with no shows and patients who don’t want to be there.Many times the people who need nutrition advice are the people who don’t want to be there. The people who you will see will often be people who are referred by their doctor after a new diagnoses. Sometimes it will be someone who is there for a quick fix and doesn’t like what you have to say. Or maybe a patient’s primary concern is getting food, not the amount nutrition in the food. Having a passion for helping people to develop a desire for improved nutrition is vital.
Be open minded. Please, please, please don’t be a food snob. Get it in your head that eating fast food and being healthy aren’t mutually exclusive. People have different experiences and different priorities. Don’t assume your way of eating is superior or the only way.
Respect food. Nutrition is about the science, but it is also about the food. Having a love for food, cooking, eating with others, trying new foods, etc is vital. It’s important to understand that food is our fuel, but it is also a source of joy and a part of our culture and community with others.
Lastly, care for people. Nutrition is medicine that allows people to live healthy lives. Caring about the welfare of others is one of the most important qualities of a dietitian. Taking the time to understand where they are coming from and what their needs are will be how you find success.
That’s all I have for today… soon I will post a reflection of my overall grad school experience!