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The Many Roles of a Dietitian

Written by: Alisa McAleer
Monday November 3, 2014

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information that is presented and to be studied in the dietetics field, especially as an intern. In light of finishing my 11th week of internship, I thought I’d share a few highlights, specifically from the weekly classes we attend. No matter how much I thought I knew as a dietetics graduate, it never ceases to amaze me how vast our field is, and how there is always something more to learn about.

The biggest area of discovery for me has been learning about the unending career possibilities as a dietitian, and how our area of expertise allows for us to have extremely different roles. Each Monday throughout our program, we attend a class in which we have a speaker (usually an RD) who speaks on a topic specific to their role in the field. We’ve heard from so many amazing dietitians; I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites.

Carolyn O’Neil was the first speaker who got me thinking outside the “clinical” box of dietetics. She is an RD, who is an author and specializes in food and nutrition communications. Her personal journey was exciting and motivated me to explore other areas in food and nutrition that I hadn’t previously thought about. She made a particular statement that stayed with me, which was about not falling into the “good” and “bad” trap when discussing food and nutrition. We are smarter than that and have more to offer. People want the truth about nutrition, not just cookie-cutter, pre-fabricated responses. She gave great tips about writing for the public and presenting our information in a fun and creative way. Overall, she was inspiring to the student dietitian that also has aspirations of becoming a writer in the world of food and nutrition.

My favorite topic was probably on Nutrition Informatics, presented by Tamara Melton, an RD who also teaches at Georgia State University about how information, nutrition, and technology intersect as the practice of dietetics evolves. My computer nerd side of me perked up as I am always searching for efficient ways to use data. Combining my background in business information systems and passion for nutrition sounds to me like an ideal career and I’m excited to dig deeper into this up and coming area, in which I had no previous knowledge.

I love clinical nutrition, so every presentation in this area interested me. I especially learned a lot of new information from presenters, Moira Faris, Alex Kennedy, and Kayla Villa, the team at Emory who spoke about cardiology and nutrition. The breakdown of the different cardiology-related surgeries and procedures were very detailed and helpful for understanding the different nutritional implications and guidelines for each. It’s exciting to know that as a dietitian, we can focus on and work with such a specific population and become proficient in the medical nutrition therapy that is involved.

Of course, these are just a few of the areas that have been addressed, and again, I really loved how specific each dietitian was with her information when presenting about her respective topic.

As a student dietitian, all of the nutrition therapy as it applies to so many different diseases and conditions can be overwhelming. I am learning that I don’t need to be an expert in every area, but instead, I can be of greater service if I am an expert in one or two areas specific to the population I serve, with a good foundational knowledge in the other areas. I have seen examples of this in my preceptors, whom I greatly admire for the difference they make in their area of expertise in nutrition.