End of the Semester Review

The first semester of nutrition graduate school was one of the most academically challenging times of my life. The  semester was designed to give us a broad overview of the field, and each course required a different approach to master the material.  I discovered some new areas of interest to further explore as I continue on this path.

Food Service Management was the class I was most looking forward to and, perhaps because of my anticipation, was the most disappointing. A poorly written textbook and an out of state professor were not conducive to learning in this “hybrid” format course. I enjoyed the content overall and I obtained my New York City Food Handler’s License. Additionally, the in person professor was the Food Service Director at a prestigious hospital in New York City. She is passionate about delivering exceptional customer care and led her hospital to becoming one of the first hospitals in the United States to offer room service to patients. She led three inspirational lectures throughout the semester.

Take away for the future: successful food service managers have a passion for customer service, a knack for working both effectively and efficiently and a broad knowledge of the kitchen ranging from plumbing to purchasing. Would I consider a career in this area of dietetics? Yes, but it would depend on the setting and the company. I am interested in learning more about sustainability practices in purchasing and developing menus for populations with specific nutritional needs. I’ve also learned from experts in the field that there is a disconnect between the clinical staff and the food service professionals and I think it would be interesting to hold a position that connected them.

Community Nutrition Education was an excellent course. My professor was the only full time faculty member that we had in our first semester. She very thoughtfully designed and taught the course. A community researcher herself, she embodied all the characteristics of a social justice oriented citizen. Many of the broad frameworks of the course–especially the research methods and behavioral change models–were familiar to me. The projects emphasized experiential learning–getting us outside of the textbook and into a more applied realm of nutrition. I loved every project in this course. I already described the food stamp challenge to you here. I actually would like to write separate posts on all of the projects so I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that they were some of the most thought provoking assignments I’ve had in my career. We had several inspiring guest speakers–one person who is now the Director of the New York City Food Policy Center and Lorena Drago, an RD and diabetes educator who is an expert in tailoring health education materials in culturally relevant ways for the Latino community.

Take away for the future: community nutrition is a field that focuses on engaging with and promoting health behaviors in disadvantaged communities in ways that are inclusive, culturally appropriate and sustainable. I learned that I’m interested in the relationship between brain health and nutrition, especially in older adults. Would I consider a career in this area of dietetics? It would really depend on the population of people that I had the opportunity to work with. I don’t think I will be a community nutritionist per se, but I definitely see myself using a lot of the skills and techniques (motivational interviewing, tailoring education materials) and weaving many of the values and frameworks (the transtheoretical model, social cognitive theory) into my work as a dietitian regardless of the setting.

This is my set up in the library where I spent more time than I care to think about this semester.

Biochemistry was the class that I was most worried about surviving. If ever you tell someone that you are taking biochemistry, you are immediately greeted with a scrunchy face and well wishes. But I loved it! It was an important integration of all of the science pre-requisites: Anatomy and Physiology 1 and 2, General Chemistry 1 and 2, Organic Chemistry, Microbiology and Food Science. As with most of the science courses I’ve taken, the challenge was moving from the details of enzymatic reactions (for example) to the big picture of where, why and when it is taking place in the body. Take away for the future: I have a much stronger grounding in metabolic pathways and have greater clarity about how our body uses macronutrients. Next semester we take Advanced Nutrition 1 and from what I hear, it pulls many of the details from Biochemistry even further together.

I enjoyed the integration of math and social science in Biostatistics.  I’ve taken statistics before so some of the concepts were a review. Take away for the future: nutrition misinformation is constantly available to the public and its the job of an RD to sift through the misinformation and promote scientifically sound nutrition information. A solid grounding in statistics and research methods (coming up next semester) will enable me to critically review scientific literature and decide what is fact and what is fiction in the literature. This will allow me to make informed recommendations to my clients.

In addition to my academic activities, I continue to enjoy teaching cooking classes at Sur La Table in midtown Manhattan. My longtime boss left the company to produce a television show! Sad news for us but we’re all very excited for her. I’ve embarked on two volunteering endeavors. Once or a twice a month I volunteer in the diet office at a nearby hospital. I organize RD productivity sheets into Excel and occasionally review medical records to extract information relevant to the needs of the Clinical Nutrition Director. I’m also working with a Corporate Wellness dietitian once or twice a month. She needs help with a weight loss challenge and is kind enough to allow me to sit in on her lunch and learns so I can get a sense of that area of nutrition. Finally, I joined a practice group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called Nutrition Entrepreneurs. One of the benefits is a list serv in which RDs in private practice solicit and share information about starting a business, conducting workshops and working with clients. Not all of the information exchanged is immediately relevant to me, but I know much of it will be in the future. I’m also using it to find new heroes in the field!

School starts up again on January 29, and I am trying to have a restful couple weeks before the craziness begins again!


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