Hey guys! Today I have a special treat for you: a guest post from fellow RD blogger, Sarah, from the blog Bucket List Tummy. I get so many emails from future dietitians asking about what our career path is like, so I like to include posts like this from time to time. Even if you’re not thinking about becoming an RD, I think these types of posts are great at illustrating all of the work it takes to become a registered dietitian and what we actually do. I really love how Sarah describes what a great learning experience our 1200-hour required dietetic internship is. Having to go through all of those rotations is just one of the many things that sets registered dietitians apart from those who call themselves nutritionists.
I hope you guys enjoy and thanks so much to Sarah for writing this post!
Hello! I’m Sarah, the blogger at Bucket List Tummy. I’m so thrilled to be posting on Grapefruit and Granola today! Like Sam, I am also a Registered Dietitian in the Charlotte, NC area. Sam asked me to write a little bit about my road to becoming a RD, my career path, and what a typical day looks like.
I didn’t realize my passion for health and nutrition until about four years out of college. I was a college athlete as an undergraduate, so always assumed I would work in sports. I graduated with a business degree in Sport Management and was excited to put my knowledge and passion towards athletics. However, after working briefly in college sports, I could see where burnout would come in. The hours were long and there were almost always weekend events to work.
I started reevaluating my career path and exploring other options. Around this same time, I began immersing myself in nutrition and healthy living blogs, and soaking up any information I could find. Though I was working full time at the time, I considered taking night classes just to learn more. I was somewhat intimidated that I would have a bunch of prereq classes to take and the thought of going back to school wasn’t at the top of my list, so I let the thoughts sit for a year.
I would continually talk to my (now) husband about nutrition and he finally encouraged me to go back. I signed up for the prereqs I needed (intro to nutrition, organic chemistry II, microbiology and biochemistry) and took those over the next year before applying to graduate schools. Fortunately, I had taken some exercise science classes as an undergraduate so I did have some of the sciences already checked off. I got into my top graduate school, UNC Chapel Hill, which offered a dual degree – a Master’s in Public Health and Nutrition with the credentials needed to sit for the RD exam. I took the exam in February and here I am six months into being a RD!
To become a dietitian, you complete rigorous coursework and also a year long, hands on internship. While I loved the learning about the vitamins, minerals and medical nutrition therapy in the classroom, the internship is really where you learn the most. The hands on experience is unparalleled. You’ll get experience in food service, community nutrition, and in the hospital setting. Depending on your program and interests, there may be some other options as well. For example, at UNC’s coordinated program, we got to choose our last internship placement. Since I had an interest in corporate wellness, I spent three months out in Portland, Oregon where I worked with the dietitian on Nike’s campus. It was such a cool, learning experience, and one I wouldn’t have gotten if I wasn’t proactive about getting experience in that area.
My advice for those of you going into an internship, or even applying, is to make the most of it. Be prepared, read the studies and resources your preceptor sends you. Spend time getting to know your preceptor, pick his/her brain. Make a positive impression because there’s a good chance you’ll need him/her for a job recommendation or resource in the future. Be on time and always be professional. Ask questions and treat it like your job. Stay late when you have to, and always arrive early. Be proactive, seek out opportunities you want to learn about, otherwise you may never get the chance.
I actually have two jobs that are quite similar currently. I work in a physical therapy clinic a few days a week, where I work with an interdisciplinary team. Our team is made up of Physicians, PA’s, Physical Therapists and Registered Dietitians. While I figured out that the hospital setting wasn’t right for me during my internship, I did learn that I really love the “team” approach. We all bring different expertise to the table, but it’s great to collaborate with others to determine the best solution for our patients. In my other position, I do one-on-one nutrition counseling. I also do metabolic testing, which determines a person’s resting metabolic rate. It is very helpful in giving people an idea of how much they should be eating, and then I can determine the optimal macronutrient distribution based on their goals.
This is what metabolic testing looks like.
A typical day for me is never the same, which is one thing I thrive on. I like the new challenges, the new patients and the constant learning. I am evaluating and learning more with each patient I see.
Two days a week, I’ll have early clients (7, 8am) I see before they head to work. Depending on the day, I may see between 5-7 patients, which is very manageable. Things are typically slower in the summer, as people are enjoying vacations. But now that school has started, I’m getting busier and busier. Since I live pretty close to my office, I’ll typically go home for lunch. If I have time, I may try to sneak a run in. It’s back to the office in the afternoon for more clients and charting. Two nights a week I also have night clients so depending on what day it is, I may be counseling clients until 7pm. Whenever I have time between appointments, I’ll typically work on stuff for my blog, answer reader emails and comments, plan future posts, develop recipes, and write. I consult with a few different health publications so there’s almost always an article I’m researching for or writing. Some days are also filled with lunch presentations at companies or lunches with doctor’s offices (for referrals). You can also see a day in the life post here and here.
The only regret I have in my career path is not finding it sooner. Nutrition is such an ever-changing field that touches all of us. I love the ability to connect with others and improve their health. I love bonding with others over food, giving clients recipe ideas and working with them to achieve their goals.
While I do some nutrition counseling through my blog (email me for more info), I have ambitions of starting my own private practice someday. My final advice would be don’t take any job or learning experience for granted and read all you can about the part of nutrition you have an interest in!
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Sarah is a Registered Dietitian and the blogger of the nutrition blog, Bucket List Tummy. She also enjoys running and crossing things off her bucket list. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.