My Day as a Dietitian and How to Become One
Tomorrow officially marks my 7 year anniversary as a dietitian. Cue the confetti! I still remember the morning I took my RD exam at some local college’s testing center. When the screen shut off and notified me that I had passed, I ran outside to where my mom was sitting, quietly cheered (people were still testing nearby), and signed my name for the first time as Janel Ovrut, RD. It was a proud day. And every day of my career since that day has been equally proud. I love what I do, and love the fact that I’m in a helping profession. The way I see it, everyone eats. And if I can help someone figure out how to do it better, I’ve successfully done my job. I’m so happy I chose a career that excites me every day. I’ve wanted to be a dietitian since I was 10 years old and have never looked back! The other day Funk and I were talking about what jobs we’d want if money and experience weren’t factors. It was really hard for me to come up with something besides nutrition. I ultimately said I’d want to be an interior designer, but you can’t tell that by looking at the current state of my apartment…
I get a lot of questions about what I do, and how to become a dietitian, so I figure now would be a great time to answer those questions.
I work in a variety of settings, and my schedule is constantly changing. I’ve come to love the fact that my work ebbs and flows with the seasons, trends, and opportunities. I’m typically a person who loves to plan, and not being able to plan or forecast my next freelance gig is both nerve wrecking and exciting. It keeps me always striving for more, and always setting goals. I also can say with confidence that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work in one job in one location for 40 hours/week again! I enjoy the variety of my week, and it’d take an absolute dream job to make me stay in one place all week. However, so much of what I’m already doing falls into my “dream job” category, so I consider myself pretty darn lucky.
As a consultant, I work…
As a corporate wellness expert, giving lunch-and-learn seminars, information tables at health fairs, and 1:1 counseling sessions to companies big and small. I also work on cafeteria makeover programs, and provide weight management classes.
As a brand ambassador for Attune Foods, helping to promote a product I love through blogging, tweeting, in-person promotions, and more.
And when I’m not doing that, I’m…
The dietitian for a large behavioral school in Massachusetts as well as the dietitian for the Boston Conservatory, a small performing arts college. Working in higher ed was always a dream of mine and I just love the conservatory, which makes me feel like I am working in a real-world version of Glee. There I do counseling and nutrition programming for the students, and teach the freshmen dance class course on nutrition. And I love it. Love love love it.
Becoming a dietitian is getting to be a pretty popular and highly competitive career choice, but I’d highly recommend it over any weekend-long, hokey nutrition “certification” course. I personally wouldn’t take legal advice from someone who took an online course in legal action (I’d hire a lawyer, obvi) nor would I recommend open heart surgery with a guy who reads a lot of books and blogs about heart health. Stick with the professional route so you’re seen as a professional and have the knowledge to back it up. If you’re looking at colleges, find one with a nutrition program. I got my degree at Syracuse University. At the time, there was the option of the coordinated and didactic program. I went the coordinated route (which rarely exists anymore), which meant I was able to squeeze a college education and 900 hours of a nutrition internship in 4 years. I didn’t have to apply to the insanely competitive internships, since I had already completed mine upon graduation. Then I was able to sit for the exam, pass, and work as a dietitian! The other option is to get a degree in nutrition (whether undergrad or grad) then apply for an internship, which is a minimum of 900 hours. (UPDATE! Apparently now 1200 hours are required – woah!) The internship can take anywhere from 6 months to two years, depending on the program, and it’s typically unpaid. After that, you sit for the exam, then off you go as a dietitian.
If you are starting over on a new career and have zero science background, you’re likely going to have to take some prerequisite classes before you jump into a nutrition program – things like bio, chem, and anatomy. They’re not easy, but they’re essential (and interesting!). Don’t let those classes stand in your way of following your dream career. Once you’re there – the possibilities are endless. I never took the clinical route, but there are a multitude of opportunities in the hospital or long term care setting. You could also work for a food company, school, community programs, open up your own practice, work for a grocery store, write a book, and more. I like to tell people that wherever there is food, there is a dietitian. And if there isn’t, there should be, so pitch away!
Seven years ago when I first became a dietitian, I had no idea where my career would take me. It was full of twists, turns, hard work, a little bit of disappointment, lots of opportunity, and plenty of surprises. Now I can’t wait to see what the next seven years will bring me!