Carol, 44, lives in Burlington, Ontario. She attended the University of Western Ontario for her first degree, and then attended Ryerson University in Toronto for her nutrition degree. She is currently in private practice at a medical clinic. She gets referrals from the physicians at the clinic, as well as self-referrals from individuals. She also does group presentations. Her nutrition counselling services include heart disease prevention (e.g. high cholesterol, high blood pressure), heart disease treatment (e.g. following a heart attack or surgery), diabetes, weight management, malnutrition, digestive problems (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis, pancreatitis, celiac disease), vegetarianism, and general healthy eating.
Stephanie: What made you decide to become a dietitian? How did you become a dietitian?
Carol: My route in deciding to become a dietitian was not your typical one. Dietetics is actually my second career. I originally went to university to study business because an influential high school teacher suggested that I had an aptitude for it. As I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after high school, I went along with his suggestion.
After I graduated I obtained a position in a Toronto company that provided software and computer services to the financial industry. I worked in that industry for 10 years gradually obtaining more senior positions. The original small company I first worked for was taken over twice by larger companies, so that eventually I was working in a large conglomerate with which I became unhappy.
Rather than just switching companies within the same industry, I decided to take a long hard look at what I wanted to do with my life. I spent two years reading "inspirational books" and making notes as to what my values and goals were, what I liked about my current job, what I didn’t like, etc. I determined that I liked helping people (I was in customer service before), that I wanted to give something useful back to the community, and that I had a strong personal interest in fitness and nutrition. So I started doing research on careers in health. It was only then that I discovered the career of dietitian. I thought it was an exciting field to be in because there was so many areas you could work in – hospitals, community, industry, education, private practice, etc.
With the support of my husband, at the age of 32 I went back to school full-time for four years and did a one-year internship at a hospital to obtain the right to practice as a dietitian.
Stephanie: What does a dietitian do?
Carol: Registered dietitians are the professionals for food, diet and nutrition information. The term dietitian is protected by law and can only be used by those who meet specific education and practice standards. Law does not protect the term nutritionist so anyone with any amount of training -- or even no training -- can call themselves a nutritionist.
Dietitians work in many areas: hospitals, long-term care institutions, medical clinics, community health, education facilities, government, food and pharmaceutical industry, food service/catering companies, research facilities, fitness centres, media and public relations, and private practice/consulting.
-Clinical dietitians identify nutrition problems, assess the nutritional status of patients, develop nutrition care plans and monitor the effectiveness of dietary changes.
-Food service dietitians manage food service departments and ensure the safe, sanitary and cost effective preparation and distribution of meals and snacks.
-Consulting dietitians operate their own private consulting practices and provide expertise in nutrition, diet therapy and food service to individuals, institutions, business and the media.
-Community/public health dietitians assess the nutritional needs of populations, identify community nutrition problems, and develop health promotion strategies and nutrition education programs in order to improve a community’s nutritional well being, prevent disease, increase access to food and enhance personal control of health.
-Education dietitians teach nutrition, food chemistry or food service administration to students in dietetics, nursing, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, food production or child care.
-Business dietitians assist the private sector with research, product development, management and marketing expertise.
-Research dietitians plan and execute research projects that will help to enhance patient care and improve the cost effectiveness of food service.
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Carol: I have now been practicing dietetics for eight years. For the first seven years I worked in a hospital setting. This past year I have started my own private practice at a medical clinic. I love my job because I get great satisfaction from helping people feel better and improve their health and well being. I like the interaction I have with many different types of people and working with them to help solve problems. I also love nutrition. It is a fascinating vast subject which requires that I am always current with new research as well as what is going on in the popular press.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Carol: I had to think long and hard about the least favourite part of the job, and honestly I can’t come up with anything. Being in private practice is a challenge because you have to market yourself as well as doing your principal job of counselling, however, I find that interesting too. Also, perhaps the financial rewards of being on your own are less than working for an organization.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a dietitian?
Carol: I would advise people who are considering becoming a dietitian to research all aspects of the field before committing to the five-year process of education and training. Depending on what aspect of dietetics you are interested in you will need different natural strengths. For example, if you want to do individual counselling you will need to really enjoy listening and talking to people as well as spending a lot of time keeping current on new trends and scientific research. Talk to dietitians who work in different areas to see if you think you would enjoy it.
Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a dietitian? What kind of education did you get?
Carol: To be a dietitian you need to complete a four-year degree program in food and nutrition at an accredited university, and then complete an accredited practicum program at a hospital or community program, or obtain a post-graduate degree in nutrition. The Dietitians of Canada can provide information on accredited programs.
I completed a four-year food and nutrition honours degree with a minor in health promotion at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. My practicum was at the Toronto Western Hospital in Toronto (now part of University Health Network).
Stephanie: What is your favourite food, and why?
Carol: When it comes to food, I don’t have one favourite; however, my favourite style of food is definitely Mediterranean/Italian. I have always liked this style, but one summer I spent some time in Tuscany, Italy and thought the food was the greatest on earth. I love all the fresh produce, grains, oils, and wine -- and of course, the relaxed, love-of-life approach that goes with it.
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