Tag Archives: nutrition education

Life is Taking Me WHERE? Learning to Fit In

I grew up as a Coast Guard brat, moving around the country every few years. I ended up spending my entire high school years in Maryland, where I also ended up attending the University of Maryland, College Park as well as my dietetic internship.  Watching my mom deal with all the moves when I was growing up made me decide that I would never want to marry into the military life, and I loved Maryland.

Fast forward: in college I met an Army ROTC cadet who I ended up marrying during my internship in 2011.  (Guess you can’t really help who you fall in love with, right? And turns out he’s worth it to deal with the whole Army thing 🙂 )  And now, here I am, an Army wife who last summer had to relocate to a strange new place, leave all my friends and family behind, adjust to married life, and…oh yeah, pass the RD exam and start my career

El Paso Juarez Exit

Careful you don't take a wrong turn and end up in Juarez by accident!

Last summer I moved to El Paso, TX, which is a sprawling city (pop ~650,000) in west Texas that immediately borders Juarez, Mexico.  Before you jump to conclusions about what it’s like to border one of the most dangerous, “murder capitals” of the world, El Paso has recently been named one of the safest cities of over 500,000 people, which I can agree with.  Plus our neighbor has some WONDERFUL influences on us, not to be forgotten – Juarez contributes a lot of beautiful art, delicious cuisine, and citizens from both sides of the border are the friendliest population group I have ever been among.  Bordering Mexico does have challenges, however, such as a HUGE cultural shift from the East Coast, including the language, food, and lifestyle.

**Note: I really enjoy living here! Of course adjusting was difficult but El Paso really is a wonderful place.  I encourage anyone to visit before they judge it!**

I decided early on that finding a job working in clinical nutrition was probably my best bet in this locale:

  1. It would be a good experience to work in clinical right out of my internship to continue sharpening my skills in assessing, interviewing, educating, and intervening in a variety of patients and conditions.
  2. All the community nutrition jobs (primarily for low-income El Pasoans) required you know Spanish, and for good reason. Hospitals have staff that could help translate – I only know a small amount of conversational Spanish. (¡qué lástima!)
  3. Many organizations such as dialysis centers required at least 1 year of experience outside of the internship.  I had 0.
  4. Working for a national hospital company may benefit me in the long run by allowing me to relocate within their system as I need to move around with my husband.
  5. I like clinical!

My internship provided me with so many rotations in so many different places, and as a result that experience REALLY helped.  As I interviewed for jobs, I had a lot of insight on how various facilities can differ in terms of management style, workplace culture, RD job duties, and patient population.

I was thrilled when I found an RD position for a medical center nearby, working alongside a few other dietitians, only one of whom is Hispanic and Spanish-speaking.  Not to say it hasn’t had its challenges!

I’d say about half of my patients do not speak ANY English.  Some of them don’t even live in El Paso – they came from across the border.  I’ve learned that in my facility, asking nurses to help translate is the best option, if they’re available to help.  Most of the nurses are from around here and are fluent in Spanish.  One time I made the mistake of having a patients grandson help to translate what was supposed to be a brief, simple education, and boy was that a mess.  He didn’t understand what I was trying to say, so the patient ended up even more confused; I ended up having to wait for the nurse to come help anyways!  Plus the nurses are usually familiar with the educational content I provide, so they know exactly what I’m trying to say as well as how to explain it, unlike a family member.

Often times I also ask for assistance from the Spanish-speaking RD on staff, who has been extremely helpful!  She’s also helped teach me about common food items and other cultural differences in El Paso that I’m not used to.

Here’s my main point: My advice to any dietitians (or even nurses, doctors, or other healthcare workers) who must move to an unfamiliar place…immerse yourself in their culture, and find a local to enlighten you on how people live.  Joining the local dietetic association was also really helpful- you’ll meet RDs who have lived there forever.  I realize El Paso is a pretty extreme example, but the same advice applies.

The bottom line is if you don’t know your patient population, you can’t do your job well.  This is especially crucial when you’re dealing with their eating and lifestyle habits – I can’t tell a person of Mexican descent to stop eating tortillas, that would just be loco.  Number one rule of nutrition counseling is to work with the patient to make small changes to gradually lead to big improvements.  I need to know the baseline diet of the average person here in order to meet them on their level.  To do that, I’ve visited the grocery stores (including the Mexican markets), read the local paper for specials and restaurant reviews, explored menus, grilled my coworker who is a born and bred El Pasoan, and even sampled the local delicacy – Chico’s Tacos (the locals love it but I had a hard time stomaching it haha).

Chico's Tacos

El Paso fare - Chico's Tacos

It’s a whole different world than the one I came from, but it turns out I have adjusted pretty well and now I am really enjoying my time here.  Working as an RD in a foreign place is a challenge, but I know it’s making me a better dietitian in the long run!

If you have any tips on adjusting to different cultures in the nutrition or healthcare industry, please share them!

RD Web Presence – A Valuable Thing

I have always had a passion for social media and information technology, which is no surprise if you have followed my blog or know my background!  Communicating with the public online is something I really enjoy.

Having a website, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc can be a lot of work to maintain (especially when you have a full-time job, too!)  however it can really pay off.  For example, I was contacted by a company called AD Medical, or America’s Dietitians, which is in Chicago.  One of their employees in the communications department stumbled upon my website and blog, and took the time to contact me directly.  He asked if I would be interested in writing a guest blog for his company’s brand new website.

Just some background – AD Medical works primarily with those on Medicare and with diabetes.  Their new website provides information for both clients and health care providers.  Their new blog, BlogAbetic, offers a more interactive feature for clients to learn tips on healthy living.

I was really excited to be featured as the first blogger featured on BlogAbetic after they debuted their brand-new website.  I definitely hope to work with them more in the future!

Check out my entry – Color Your Plate, Improve Your Health!

Having a website, blog, and various social media platforms have given me many other opportunities as well, such as career advice, notification of available jobs/volunteer work, and even an offer for free RD exam study materials!  Plus, when you apply to a job, all you have to do is refer them to your portfolio to find all the information they’d ever want.

It may seem like a lot of work to maintain a web presence, but don’t give up.  For example, my blog had very few views when I first started, but now I get more than I ever initially expected!

How has social media and web presence helped you in your career/education?

Eat…Sleep…Blog!

Hey everyone- sorry if it seems like I’ve been neglecting Mission: Dietitian! However I have been in my information technology and communication rotations.  The commutes to DC and Alexandria are extremely long plus I work on a computer all day- by the time I get home I’m a tad crosseyed.  Not that I’m complaining- I love it! But theres only so much blogging you can do in one day.  Speaking of which, I have two more to offer you (I know, I hate referring you all to OTHER blogs in my past few entries…but it would be silly to be posting the same blog in two places, right?)

my partner and I

Ala & Chrissy: Nutrition Blogger Extraordinaires!

IFIC has another blog up that my partner and I wrote (see here and here for past published entries).  It’s about keeping those health-related new years resolutions a top priority!  It offers suggestions to help you reach your personal goals:

A New Year: A New You?

…And the University of Maryland Dietetic Internship Blog has a recent posting by yours truly!  (See here and here for my past entries to the internship blog.)  It talks about some of the stuff I learned about the public perception of foods and ingredients while at IFIC:

The Blame Game: Science, Hype, and Consumer Attitudes

I hope you enjoy the posts!  Any feedback is much appreciated.  I just started my rotation at CNPP– so I’ll keep you updated with what I can, when I can!

Happy Healthy Weight Week!

This week (January 16-22) is the 18th annual Healthy Weight Week.  Basically we want to spread awareness that fad diets for rapid weight loss are not only potentially dangerous, but don’t work in the long run!  Yes, they may help you lose weight initially, but as far as keeping it off…don’t hold your breath!  Long-term weight loss requires a full understanding of good nutrition and active, healthy living, plus the self-discipline to adhere to those guidelines.  With quickie weight loss gimmicks, you could lose weight at first but you don’t really learn how to ideally sustain it.

Bottom Line? Healthy Weight Week aims to draw attention to achieving your individual healthy weight as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

IFIC LogoCheck out this blog I co-wrote for the IFIC Foundation to highlight some of their helpful resources to help educate the public about weight loss:

Healthy Weight Week: No Scams, Gimmicks, or Tricks- Just the Facts

Moving on Up: In Age, at Least!

The past two days I’ve been working with younger children from preschool to first grade.  Yesterday we also talked to some parents about the importance of family meals- for nutrition, social support, and other reasons.

Today, still in Baltimore, I was presented a new challenge: middle schoolers.  Fortunately it went very well, although I was wiped out at the end of the day, it was fun!  It is so interesting to see the big differences with each grade, even just between 6th and 7th graders, developmentally and behaviorally.

fat in a super size fry from McDonalds

The amount of fat in a McDonald's Super Size Fry. Gross, right?

We did 3 classes: 8th grade, 7th grade, and then 6th grade.  Each lesson started out with calculating the teaspoon equivalents of fat in fast food items (represented by shortening), and teaspoon equivalents of sugar in beverages (represented by salt).  We said that 4 grams=1 tsp, so they could figure out the grams of fat/sugar in each item and go from there.  It was pretty effective in terms of shock value. One girl was looking through the booklet with all the nutrition info for fast food restaurants, and said, “Wow, I want to show my mom,” which prompted the nutrition educator and I to find her a booklet to take home!  If that’s the only impact we made today- to spark that girl to start thinking about nutrition in a way she hadn’t before- then our work was worth it. Definitely.

Helping 8th graders

Helping the 8th graders coat veggies in oil and spices before grilling.

After that activity, we made a healthier fast food option: chicken fajitas on whole grain tortillas with TONS of veggies: onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, squash, and tomato.  We got out the portable grill and made it right there in the classroom, with everyone helping out by chopping veggies, stirring, flipping, or setting up plates.

So sad that this was my last day for FSNE!  I’ll never forget it- I learned so much about teaching for different audiences, and it will definitely help me in my future career.  The nutrition educators I got to work with were fantastic and really inspiring!  It reminded me of why I love community nutrition.

Students as chefs

Students cutting up their veggies for fajitas.

More Community Education

Ready to make pizza

Ready for the kids to start!

I am in my second week of my FSNE rotation, and I am still mixing it up quite a bit from day to day.  Monday I helped educate young mothers about incorporating dairy in their daily lives, especially for their children.  For today (Tuesday), Wednesday, and Thursday I am in Baltimore at Moravia Primary, which teaches prekindergarten through 8th grade.  Today we taught the pre-k and kindergarten children how to make healthy pizza and read them a story.

Finished pizzas

Ready to eat

The healthy pizza is as follows:

  • Whole wheat english muffin
  • Marinara sauce
  • Mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomato, broccoli
  • Low-fat mozzarella
  • Oregano and garlic

20 minutes in the oven, and they came out looking great!  I don’t have much experience with children (hardly even babysat any as a teenager) but I had a fun time helping out.

Spread the Love Around

That’s what I’m doing in my current FSNE (government-funded Food Supplement Nutrition Education program) rotation- spreading my knowledge and love of nutrition to the community!  I have been very busy:

  • Tuesday I was able to go to my old high school and talk to Anne Arundel County teachers about implementing a new program for their child development interns to use that emphasizes nutrition.  Afterwards I went to Gaithersburg to teach 3rd graders about where food comes from, parts of the plant, and we made salad.
  • Wednesday I went to a school in Capitol Heights (PG County) and talked about whole grains to Hispanic immigrants.  My role was to teach them how to identify a WHOLE grain- food companies can market their foods pretty trickily!
  • Thursday I had projects to do from home (putting in community events on the eatsmart.umd.edu website and looking for nutrition-infused curriculums in other subjects like math, english, etc)
  • Today (Friday) I trekked up to Westminster in Carroll County to help out in a class for developmentally disabled adults.  We made egg nog and I led them on an activity to identify food groups from pictures of common foods.

This rotation has been really fun so far.  Every day is totally different with subject matter and audience (teachers to children to mostly Spanish-speaking to developmentally disabled, talk about comprehensive exposure!).  I have learned how to adjust my teaching style to adapt to their different needs.  The teaching part was my favorite aspect in clinical – so this rotation, all about educating, is really fun for me.