My Day as a Dietitian and How to Become One

dietitians-at-whole-foods

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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 freelance writer, for sites like The Mushroom Channel and the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog.

As a brand ambassador for Attune Foods, helping to promote a product I love through blogging, tweeting, in-person promotions, and more.

As a speaker for conferences and organizations such as the Healthy Living Summit, Fit Bloggin,’ and the Massachusetts and Oregon Dietetic Associations’ annual conferences.

And pretty much anything else I can get my hands on, especially media work like video, print, and social media.

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.

boco-dietitian

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!

 

12 Comments

  1. Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Happy Anniversary! Any RD reading this post will be sure to reminisce on their own journey to become and RD. Great story!

  2. Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Just an update – the internships now require 1200 hours! Just for all you readers thinking about going the RD route 🙂

  3. Janel
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    thanks for the update!!!

  4. Posted September 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I love reading about how people ended up on their paths. Clearly you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing: what you’re passionate about! Congratulations on 7 years as an RD!

  5. Posted September 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    happy 7 year anniversary! You were one of the first RDs who “shined the light” for me and helped me to realize this would be a field i would love. i am eternally grateful for that and our friendship! during the internship it can be easy to get trapped in a situation you don’t like (hello clinical) but it’s the work you and the other RDs that inspire me do that keeps me going. In fact today was a day where I observed 5 phenomenal counseling sessions then did one completely solo and I once again felt that fire, knowing i was on the right career path.
    keep up your amazing work!!
    xoxo
    e

  6. Janel
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Keep up YOUR amazing work. You inspire me every day 🙂

  7. b
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Hi! First of all congrats! Second of all, thanks for the advice, I am still at the very early stages of considering a career change so your summary of how to become an RD is helpful. One more question I have, however, is if you have any advice on what kind of volunteering I can do to get good experience before I make this decision? I tried with a local healthy school food coalition, but they promote only vegan, plant-based protein programs, which I don’t entirely agree with…nor do I think they will work in inner-city schools! Anyways, looking for a way to get any sort of insight into the food world as I am coming from education and feel like a real-life experience would help. Thanks!

  8. Janel
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks Bianca! I’d recommend contacting RDs in your area to see if you can shadow them. This way you’ll see what a variety of job settings are like to make sure it’s a career change you want to make. You can visit eatright.org and click “find a dietitian” to locate RDs near you. Other nutrition related volunteer opportunities could include working in the kitchen at a hospital, WIC or a food pantry, Share our Strength is a great national organization. While volunteering is great (and I highly recommend it!) you might learn more about actually working as an RD by shadowing other RDs or offering to volunteer your time to help them out in an internship setting. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

  9. Posted September 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    It’s been so long since I trained to be an RD I almost forget what was required! I did my masters’ degree at the same time so it took a little over two years. Glad that’s behind me! Look forward to seeing you in San Diego soon!

  10. b
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thank you!! Your advice is greatly appreciated…I’m going to search for an RD when I get home from work tonight…will keep you posted 🙂

  11. Posted September 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I love this! I hope all is well! Lets touch base soon and grab lunch!

  12. Posted September 20, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this! You make me feel a little more hopeful! I am currently on my path towards becoming a RD as well, and it seems like it’s just taking FOREVERR!! I’m already in my 5th semister in college, and still getting all my preruiqes out of the way. After this semister I can FINALLY start my nutrition program and take my first nutrition class. I can’t wait! I wish there was a way I could just grab my degree now and take that test! But, that prob wouldn’t go so well. It’s tough to be patient to obtain your career goal, you’ve been wanting for so many years!

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