Sunday, January 2, 2011

A healthy reminder ...

I was just tweeting back and forth with Andy Bellatti (if you do not follow him on twitter - @andybellatti - then you must!) about nutrition class requirements in medical school.  A staggering 75% of medical schools do not even require a single nutrition class in their curriculum. Most of the remaining 25% that do only require medical students to complete a whopping 25 hours.  In the discussion that follows this post on his Facebook page, Andy also described that 40% of US hospitals have a fast food chain in their cafeterias.

Although this has me scrambling to think positively, it reminded me of why I am studying to be a Registered Dietitian and why I left my last two careers behind.  I used to work at an unnamed government set of institutes with the same initials as Nutrients Inwardly Heal (hint hint).  I was fresh out of college and excited to start my career in cancer research as a post-baccalaureate researcher.  My institute was inside of the main hospital building and I ate at the same cafeteria as the doctors and used the same money from drug companies to find cures for cancer.  It was awful.  Not only was I not seeing patients (as promised), but I felt completely unfulfilled.  Not to mention the health habits of almost everyone I worked with seriously left something to be desired.  Did they not know the same risk factors I did?! I just didn't want my mentors to be people who did not practice what they preached.  On top of the individual health habits, there were at least 5 different fast food chains in the basement cafeteria and a fattier, unhealthier selection in the "faster" cafeteria for hospital staff only.

As part of my job, I attended a weekly brown bag seminar.  I got to see the best of the best in every aspect of cancer research once a week.  It was the highlight without a doubt.  Then, an expert from UC Berkely came to our brown bag.  He was not a cancer drug researcher, but a nutrition researcher!  He spent the next hour completely blowing my mind and relating nutrition to the prevention of everything that we worked on in our labs.  Sadly, a much smaller number than usual asked questions and many of those I thought needed to hear his thoughts the most were in a rush to leave the auditorium. This is not to say that clinical cancer research in the laboratory is not valuable (because it most definitely is), but this was the turning point when I realized that I was at the wrong end of the health spectrum.  I remember feeling lost at the time, but also incredibly focused and motivated.  It was a strange dicotomy.

I switched gears (albeit with the complete support of my PI, who saw the passion in my eyes :) and applied to and attended an MPH program on the west coast in Preventive Nutrition.  I left that program in 2008 with the knowledge and skills I wanted to start my career in nutrition.  I knew I had more school to go, but wanted to get experience while I began the clinical portion of my education. I began working at the local children's hospital for an RD and thought - THIS IS IT!  I'm at a great DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) program and I'll get experience while I'm in school without loans!  This is the life. Unfortunately, having no clinical experience meant that I could not enter rooms where patients were being seen, I could not sit in with the 7-part multidisciplinary team (that I had taken the job to get experience with) to debate cases, and I could not attend clinical nutrition seminars because they weren't in my "job description."  And as many of you know from working in salaried hospital jobs, 40 hours quickly turns into 50 then 60 (and sometimes 70).  There just isn't enough staff, money or time in the non-profit world sometimes.  My school suffered and I almost put school on hold for this job that was taking me away from what I knew I should be doing (and what I was good at!).

Then I started using my Twitter again like I had in the beginning - as a way to enhance my education while connecting with those around me that share my passions.  Not only that, but sometimes I learn more from Twitter than I do from the classes I pay for.  I knew I needed to make a change and do things my way.  I was so fortunate, again, to have the support of my coworkers and mentors at my job. I've realized that being a little chatter box can be very helpful - people know who you are and what you're about.  They can tell when I'm happy and fulfilled ... or not.

I found the strength to quit my job, shell out my savings for school, and I haven't looked back.  Now I'm ready to make blogging a priority in 2011 (while still using Twitter, of course!).  It's only the second day of 2011 and I already feel like it's going to be a great year.  And becuse I said that, it definitely will be!

This is kind of a rambling post, but I think I really needed to have this conversation today.  I feel completely refocused and re-energized ... just in time for the first day of the quarter tomorrow.

Thanks, Andy!

The Nutrition Nerd


  1. Fantastic post! I volunteer at one of the leading cancer hospitals in the country and it is always upsetting to see pepsi products heavily advertised, and pizza being served like there's no tomorrow.
    I'm thankful that there are people like you and andy entering the nutrition field as well. I highly recommend finding other nutrition professionals who are making a real difference in the world, gaining inspiration from them!

  2. Thank you so much for this comment!! That is exactly my plan :) Be aware of all side of this issue (including the things that work against us) and finding the positive and inspirational from the other side!!

    I always somehow ending up doing things my own way, anyway. So the different paths that brought me to this one were all worth it. Actually, it feels kind of like I planned it this way without even knowing it :)

    Thanks again!! xx Jenn