On August 31st 2017 I passed my RD exam after countless hours of internship work, studying, and overall worrying. I know I’m not the most experienced Registered Dietitian in the (banana) bunch but I do think that I’ve learned a decent amount in my 365 days (plus one month) as a nutrition professional in the long term care, rehabilitation, and eating disorder communities. In true RD fashion, I’ve created a list, a top ten list, of things I learned in my first year with “, RDN” after my name.
- Just go to FNCE. Whether you love the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or you want to boycott because you feel that their nutrition opinions are ridiculous and
not truly based in science (personally, no comment) you can’t deny that FNCE is literally the coolest conference ever. There is so much to do and see, and so many people to network with. My first FNCE I went as an intern and got to hear all about a variety of job experiences, scientific research, and products that I’d never heard of before. I still tell my boyfriend about how the Navy is advocating for more realistic fitness testing and as such they have also re-examined their nutrition protocols. My second FNCE I went as a professional and was able to explore more about other aspects of nutrition than those I was working in, all of which helped lead me to where I am today.
- Where you start doesn’t have to be where you end. I started in long term care. Even before I started my dietetic internship, as an undergraduate nutrition student, I interned in the nutrition office of a long term care facility. Then I worked on the tray line in the kitchen. Then I worked in catering. Then I worked as a Nutrition Assistant. Then, finally, I worked there as a dietitian. I worked there as a part-time dietitian for a year. I still work there per diem. I was offered a full-time job there multiple times, however that’s not where my true passion was. It’s not like I didn’t love the residents and the patients who I cared for, they were incredible, as was the team with whom I worked. Yet I just couldn’t see myself working there full-time and I didn’t want to commit to a job I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow through on.
- Take a chance. While working in this long term care facility some changes were happening and I ended up going from covering a long term care floor to spearheading the care of thirty rehab beds within a part time allotment of 14.5 hours. This transition taught me a lot about a variety of different nutrition diagnoses that I had only briefly touched upon in my internship. I gained more experience with doctors, nurses, etc. I briefly considered taking the job full time when the opportunity was presented to me and painstakingly agonized about it for weeks. However I knew it wasn’t meant for me.
- Follow your passion. When I was a fledgling nutrition student I was convinced
that I was going to work in pediatric nutrition and help kiddos who were classified as overweight or obese gain a healthier relationship with food. Instead I found myself FASCINATED with the pathology and psychology of eating disorders. I realized that my passion was the relationship with the food and not necessarily a starting and ending point as determined by the scale. Every time I walked in the door of my job as an eating disorder dietitian I felt just like Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy and the thought “It’s a beautiful day to save lives” would float through my head. Nerdy, I know, but it’s how I knew that this was my passion and not just a job.
- Listen to your preceptors. Not all of them, obviously, I’m sure there were some who you did NOT get along with whatsoever, or even those who you felt weren’t in line with your values. I guarantee you there was at least one preceptor who you had a big ‘ole RD crush on and you wanted to be when you grew up. (Love ya Marie.) You don’t have to do everything they say verbatim, however, they have more experience than you and you’re drawn to them for a reason. For instance, Marie told me that working three jobs and going to graduate school and commuting three hours daily would be unmanageable. She also saw that I like to give everything 100%. So if you’re giving everything around you 100%, there’s not much left for yourself. Did I listen? No. Do I respect that she attempted to save me from my own frustration and self-perceived failure? Yes. When she speaks pearls of nutrition wisdom (pun intended) to me now do I obey? Not with blind, cult-like obedience, but yes. I trust her.
- Learn to say no. I should have listened to Marie and said no to three part time jobs, finishing graduate school full time, and commuting to Buffalo (1.5 hours from Rochester) three times weekly, but I didn’t. I didn’t know what to say “no” to and I thought that I could do it all. Spoiler, I couldn’t, I didn’t, and I can’t. I stepped away from graduate school in order to provide a better experience for my patients and, realistically, myself. Even my boss at the time asked me “Would you expect anyone else to do all of these things at once?” She was 100% right. I sometimes wish as RD’s we were given more real-life counseling experience than just “this is what motivational interviewing” is. It’s hard to counsel yourself and step away from your work-til-you-drop internship tendencies. As RD’s we are taught to sell our souls for an internship. But once you’ve achieved that, then what?
- You won’t be perfect. Ever. Even though your DPD or DI director might have expected this. Even though you might have been trained to be upset if you got below an 80% because it was ingrained in you that it jeopardized your future. Your clients won’t give you a grade (and if they do, whatever you don’t have a life GPA) and I guarantee you, you won’t be perfect anyway. You’ll say something stupid, you won’t know the answer, you’ll make a mistake and you won’t have the excuse of “I’m just an intern” to fall back on. What do you do in those situations? You take responsibility for what you did or didn’t do. You grab any/all books on the subject matter. You ask for help.
3. It’s okay to ask for help. I was offered the job that I currently have before I was even halfway through my internship. I am so eternally grateful to have landed what I consider to be my dream job almost immediately and on top of that, that this position was held for me for six months by a rock star of a preceptor as she transitioned into her own new stuff. I was truly blessed. But with that came a lot of baggage. I built this perception of what I was supposed to accomplish from the start. Outside of my time spent there during my internship, I didn’t really receive any formal training in the job. That was okay for awhile, but I knew that I didn’t truly have the knowledge that I wanted/needed in order to be the most effective RD and fellow staff member. So what did I do? See below.
- Advocate for yourself. If you don’t feel confident in your job, tell someone. I’m not saying if you don’t know what you’re doing 100% then ask for everything under the sun. Let’s be real, people are unpredictable and you will never 100% know what a client/patient will do or how you’ll need to respond. Or you’ll get the one in a million case of bariatric surgery + renal disease + eating disorder and your brain will explode with conflicting nutrition advice. Ask for what you need. I asked for a
training program by a dietitian experienced in the eating disorder field (shout out Marci Evans!) I got it. I asked to be sent to FNCE for more specific training and for networking purposes. I got it. I asked for an extra week of vacation. I didn’t get it, but it was worth a shot, right?
1. You are your #1 client. I know it’s so tempting to invest in your clients and offer them a top notch nutrition experience. But don’t do it at the expense of you. Obviously nutrition needs vary from person to person, I’m talking about the overall health principles we talk about but don’t always embrace ourselves. Take the vacation. Set aside five minutes in your day for a walk or a non-work related conversation with a co-worker. Do you feel like you need to see a therapist? Do it. Do you feel like you need a massage? Do it. What do you feel will help you be a successful person and by association a successful professional? Do it. Just like they say on airplanes, put your mask on first before you help others. Complete your own self-care and rejuvenation before you dive in to save the world, one bite of cauliflower at a time.
I hope that resonated with you, all my fellow newbie RD’s, or those of you who have scheduled your RD exam and are losing your minds, or those RD2B’s who have/have not secured an internship yet and are still exploring. You are rock stars for entering this profession and I know you will be successful in whatever fork of the road you choose to follow (once again, pun intended).