So apologies to anyone looking for a post on the official day for National Dietitians' Day (some day last week). I thought it would be interesting to post up the full answers I gave to a writer for the magazine Today's Dietitian who was asking about my professional background for a recent article about dietitians who make a difference. I was deeply honored to be included.
I hope these questions and answers will serve as both 'information and inspiration' for anyone who is thinking about a career in dietetics, current dietetic students or interns, and even dietitians contemplating a change of their professional career goals.
Here we go (this is very long, the writer did an admirable job of paring my rambling down for the actual article):
1. What is your background in terms of becoming an RD? What is your schooling, etc.?
I have been a "science gal" for a long time and started college as a Chemistry major, switching during my junior year to graduate with a Biology degree because biology just seemed so much more "alive" than chemistry. I worked for a year as a lab tech cutting the eyes off fruit flies for a professor doing opthamology research after graduation, but I could not imagine doing that my entire life! I then went on to start a PhD program in nutritional sciences. I had taken one undergraduate introductory course in nutrition the last semester before my undergraduate graduation plus a graduate level biochemistry class while working that first year after graduation. Ahhh, I was "hooked", seeing how everything I had learned about chemistry and biology had a true human application through the science of nutrition. However, it was not until I sat next to an RD in my graduate level statistics class that I first heard the term 'registered dietitian'. After only a brief introduction to the profession by my friend (Joann Simon Carson, PhD, RD), I caught the vision and was again "hooked", deciding to focus my career direction on the clinical application of nutrition instead of research. I then began taking the two years worth of undergraduate classes needed to apply for a dietetic internship while also finishing my coursework and research for my MS in Nutritional Sciences. It took me a long time to get to my profession and then finish my professional coursework, clinical experience, and thesis. I remember feeling both pride (yea!) and enormous relief (whew!) when I first obtained my MS (a month after my first son was born) and then was finally eligible to take the RD exam, passing it the first time.
I did my undergraduate degree at Purdue University and my dietetic internship at The University of Wisconsin Hospitals and my MS in Nutritional Sciences at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.
1a. Can you tell me about your current role? What does it entail?
After spending the first 20+ years of my career in clinical positions (starting as one of the first renal dietitians in the mid 1970's before moving on to critical care nutrition in the ICU's in the late 1970's), I have continued my career since the mid-1990's with many varied roles while wearing my RD hat. I always call myself an "Dietitian-something", such as a:
(1) Dietitian-Entrepreneur when I began a private practice in 1997 focused solely on providing nutritional guidance to cancer survivors,
(2) Dietitian-Author (A Dietitian's Cancer Story first published in 1997, reprinted and updated 13 times since 1997, twice in 2010, including an edition in Spanish published in 2000),
(3) Research Funder (established the Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors' Nutrition and Cancer Research Endowment in 1999 at The American Institute for Cancer Research - AICR - funded by proceeds from the sale of my books which has helped to fund 10 research projects to date focused on nutritional strategies to increase the odds for long-term cancer survival and/or increased quality of life after a cancer diagnosis)
(4) Consultant/Advisor to The Farm at St. Joe's Advisory Committee, The Wellness Community of SE Michigan, www.breastcancer.org, AICR, several research projects around the country,
(5) Website owner (www.CancerRD.com 1998) one of the first RDs to have a website
(6) Blogger (beginning 2007, now with 3 active blogs www.dianadyer.com, www.365DaysofKale.com, www.cancervictorygardens.com),
(7) Long-term and multiple-time cancer survivor and tireless advocate and ambassador for oncology dietitians. I have been elected to the Oncology Nutrition DPG executive board and received ON DPG's Distinguished Practice Award in 2005
(8) Speaker (to both professional and public audiences since 1995),
(9) Mentor to uncountable RDs and students in all walks of an RD's career path, and now most recently
(10) Dietitian-Organic Farmer (co-founded with my husband in 2009 The Dyer Family Organic Farm in Ann Arbor, MI, specializing in 40 varieties of organic garlic), where I see myself as:
(a) a true front-line health care provider moving from a 15-year focus on nutrition for cancer survivors to being focused on pure prevention of all disease by growing organic food to be consumed by my local community,
(b) a food educator emphasizing "food as flavor", and last but just as importantly,
(c) a source of inspiration (hopefully!) to dietetic students/interns to learn about the importance of preserving and/or rebuilding our soil's health, the impact that the soil and food grown in healthy soil has on the public's health, and how professional recommendations that RDs make directly influence the health of our soil, thus coming full circle. I wrote the "School to Farm" Program for the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition DPG to begin this path for future RDs.
2. What enticed you to become an RD? What were/are you hoping to provide your clients/patients?
See #1 above for what enticed me to become an RD
What was I hoping to provide? I was excited about and knew that I could communicate (i.e. translate) to patients, the medical community, and the public both the rigors and the uncertainties of the science of biology and chemistry as applied to the science of food and nutrition in ways that would promote health and wellness and improved quality of life.
3. What do you enjoy most about your role? What do you find most rewarding?
In my current role as an organic farmer, I love coming back to my "biology roots" and finally having a job that is outside feeling the sun and rain on my face most of the time where I am both a steward and constant observer of my natural community! Most rewarding to me is believing that I am also helping to expand and shape my dietetic profession, helping RDs to step back from "we are what we eat" to embrace instead the starting point of our profession as "we are what we grow".
4. Is there a certain area within your profession that you are drawn to more than others?
I feel fortunate to have LOVED everything I have ever done and every place I have ever worked along with all of my supervisors and colleagues. Each of my past areas of clinical interest, indeed passion, (i.e., renal, critical care, cancer survivorship) has had elements that involved the interactions of "systems", with each move leading to more interactions and larger systems to contemplate and take into consideration. Finally, I have arrived to know that the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition DPG is my "home" because it connects all of the biological, nutritional, medical, psycho-social and economic systems while also bringing me back full circle early passions for environmental biology and public policy by recognizing that sustainable agriculture and ecology policies are major components of the foundation to everything else I have studied, practiced, and advocated for. I was deeply honored to receive the Excellence in Hunger and Environmental Nutrition DPG Award in 2010.
5. What do you find most challenging about your role? What do you strive to attain?
Focusing is challenging for me!! I have so many professional and non-professional interests combined with the desire to "retire", whatever that is, haha! I wish I did not need sleep. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. :-)
What do I strive to attain? I'm repeating from above:
I hope I can inspire dietetic students/interns to learn about the importance of preserving and/or rebuilding our soil's health (a critical natural resource for our nation and the fundamental foundation for food as the basis of our professsion), the beneficial impact that the soil and food grown in healthy soil have on the public's health, and how professional recommendations by RDs directly influence the health of our soil and other natural resources, thus coming full circle. I wrote the "School to Farm" Program for the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition DPG to begin this path for future RDs.
6. If you could communicate one thing to your patients about health and nutrition what would it be?
Eating is an agricultural act (Wendell Berry), and from farm to fork, our food choices will make a difference about the agricultural and food systems we have in this country. I hope that my patients (by that I really mean the public at large) will become 'food citizens' instead of just 'food consumers', i.e., both know your food and love your food. Grow, cook, eat, and enjoy as much of your own food as possible and support your community's organic farmers when possible for the rest of your food. Put a face with your food by getting to know your farmer(s) and buying his or her food. Good nutrition and great health will then follow naturally, for you, your family, your local community, and ultimately for our planet, too.
7. Finally, what do you hope the future brings you in your profession?
I have been exceedingly fortunate. Becoming an RD in 1978, I have had a long, full, interesting, and varied career. I have had opportunities I could not have predicted in my wildest imagination. I have had rewarding work with research (resulting in a change in the amount of selenium added to the formula for children with PKU), meaningful clinical work with patients and teaching medical staff, and fun! Writing my kale blog, doing food demos and cooking classes with my husband, plus selling our garlic at the farmers' markets are all SO much fun. In addition, I have made life-long professional friends locally and across the country, raised the visibility and and recognition of the benefits by having an RD on staff within every position or project in which I have been involved. It has been particularly meaningful to know that I have played a role within the specialty area of oncology nutrition, particularly raising the awareness of the need for more long-term support and resources for cancer survivors plus helping ON DPG develop the Standards of Practice for oncology RDs and the certification in Oncology Nutrition (CSO). I have been a "pioneer" in several areas of nutritional practice, influenced public policy at the national level, and contributed significant funding for cancer survivorship research. I am sure I am leaving out much and could go on and on.
All of which brings me to say that I can not imagine what else my profession can still "bring me" in the future. However, what brings me the most pleasure and the most meaning at this point of my professional career is (1) having the opportunity to touch the lives of future dietitians on my farm, and (2) meeting and developing future professional friendships. Thus, I hope our farm's mission of "Shaping our future from the ground up" helps me to achieve those pleasures while at the same time helping to shape the future of "our" profession.
That's it - whew! Sorry to be so wordy, but I hope some of my path is helpful to a future dietitian. :-) Rather than serendipitously sitting next to an RD in a class like I did, perhaps someone will serendipitously stumble onto my blog. To think that I may help someone in the same way that my friend Joann helped me would give me deep joy. I hope it happens, even if I don't know about it. :-)
Back to sorting, step, step, step!
Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD