Words of Wisdom: Advice to New Dietitians

We all had that first job, the start of our professional career as dietitians.  Like our first love, the first job often leaves the biggest impression and can sometimes even result in making a crucial decision about our career path.
My first job as a registered dietitian was as the Chief of Clinical Dietetics at Moncrief Army Hospital at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.  I still remember that cold feeling of panic when I was told my title. Even though I became a dietitian in my 30’s, going from being a dietetic intern with a group of 4 other interns,  to the “Chief” of anything seemed overwhelming.  There were just two of us at the hospital, I reported to the Chief of Nutrition Care.   She supervised me and  a number of non-commissioned officers and civilians that operated the food service (meal delivery and cafeteria).  That position taught me a lot about working with teams, managing employees,  and prioritizing responsibilities.  It’s where I began to hone my writing skills by writing for the newspaper on base.  It’s also where I  realized how much I enjoyed public speaking when I had to teach weekly classes to large groups of soldiers and officers.
Some other dietitians also shared their first job and lessons learned experiences:

Melissa Joy Dobbins – “The Guilt Free RD” – Owner and Founder of Sound Bites, Inc.
“I moved to Chicago and worked as a clinical dietitian for 2 ½ years. The hospital was located in a poor neighborhood in South Chicago, serving an indigent population. Although that was not my “dream job” (I preferred outpatient counseling) I learned important lessons that I still draw on today. I learned about real life, real people, and the realities of end stage diseases. I learned to be culturally sensitive, respectful of differences and empathic to the needs of patients and their families. Of course I learned to calculate tube feedings and TPN, but what I really learned was how to listen, support and empower people on their health journey.”

Kerry Neville, MS, RD – Food and Nutrition Communications Consultant

“My first job as an RD was at Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg, VA. I worked there for 9 months.
Most important lesson: Take advantage of opportunities, even if they scare you. A local TV station wanted to do an interview about Halloween and healthy options. I had no TV experience and no idea what I was doing, but I was the only dietitian who was willing to be interviewed. And that’s when and where I learned that I really liked doing media!”
Lona Sandon – Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
“My first job was as a part-time Clinical Instructor and Admissions Advisor for the coordinated program at UT Southwestern.  I have now been here for 18 years but the job title and responsibilities have changed significantly and I moved to an office down the hall after 16 years.  The most important lesson learned over the years is to say yes to opportunities even if your plate is already full.”

Annette Maggi – Owner and Founder of Annette Maggi & Associates, Inc.

“My first job was as a dietitian working for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, a federal program that provided funding to day care providers who provided meals that met nutrition guidelines.
Most important lessons:  How to partner successfully with coworkers in a real-life work situation, a main element of getting a job done.  How to take all the nutrition knowledge I had and communicate it effectively to my key audiences.”

So as you look for or start that first job,  think of it as a clean slate, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow both personally and professionally ….and remember there are lots of experienced dietitians who you can ask for advice because they’ve been in your shoes!

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