January 2020 Issue

2020 Planner — A Monthly Roster of Activities and Ideas for Goal Setting to Help You Grow Professionally
By Lindsey Getz
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 22, No. 1, P. 26

With 2020 upon us, you might be thinking about ways you can grow professionally—and personally—this year. Whether you want to further your knowledge, your career, or your education, there are so many exciting opportunities available of which to take advantage. You just have to go after them. To get started, Today’s Dietitian (TD) compiles a monthly calendar of activities that you can use as a checklist to set and meet new goals and broaden your horizons.

Research Graduate Schools
Beginning in 2024, the minimum required education level for prospective dietitians to be eligible to sit for the registration exam will rise from a bachelor’s degree to a graduate degree—either a master’s or doctoral degree. While currently practicing dietitians will be “grandfathered in,” some say that in order to remain relevant, considering a graduate degree may be prudent for all.

“For the established professional without a master’s, I would expect a portion would be motivated to gain new skills or increase their level of mastery in a specialty,” says Gail Frank, DrPH, RD, CHES, a professor of nutrition and nutritional epidemiologist at California State University. “They would be more competitive for salary increases and advancement in their position.”

Before beginning any research on graduate schools, Frank says one must decide whether he or she is willing to move or seek an online program. If it’s the latter, just make sure “it is from an accredited university, bearing in mind that many universities do offer degrees online with only a few weeks in residence at the campus,” Frank says.

She says to be “adventurous” and not to limit yourself. Seek an entirely different area of knowledge that will help you to be truly well-rounded, evaluating options such as an MBA, MPH, MA, MS, MEd, or even an MHA, Frank suggests.

Consider Additional Certifications
Of course, even if you don’t go for a graduate degree, there are many excellent certifications that, Frank says, “may be just as helpful in a career as a master’s.” She cites the Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), Certified Lactation Educator (CLE), and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) as ones to consider pursuing. Most certifications require meeting a minimum number of practice hours and passing an exam.

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, owner of CBR Nutrition Enterprises in Massapequa Park, New York, adds that specialty credentials are a way for dietitians to stand out and enhance their professional reputation. It also gives employers, clients, and customers an assurance of your “depth of knowledge in a specialty.”

“As a dietitian in private practice, I have found the CDE credential particularly valuable,” she says. “It gives referring providers confidence that I am truly knowledgeable in all aspects of diabetes and able to provide high-quality care to their patients.”

Brown-Riggs adds that the CDE credential also enhanced her ability to become a provider for Medicare and other major insurers, as some insurance companies specify this credential as a requirement.

Stamp Out Hunger
With March being Hunger Awareness Month, this would be an ideal time to consider volunteering at your local food bank. But there are other ways dietitians can help stamp out hunger. Food justice advocate Clancy Cash Harrison, MS, RDN, FAND, says dietitians are natural influencers of food and nutrition and therefore have a direct impact on how people feel about the food they can or can’t afford. It’s not uncommon for even dietitians to get caught up in trending superfoods or eating fresh produce, but this isn’t always feasible for people shopping on budgets—and she stresses the importance of rethinking these narratives. Patients can’t follow a prescribed meal plan for, say, heart disease or type 2 diabetes if they don’t have access to affordable, nutritious foods. So asking clients about food access is so important, she says.

In addition, Harrison says dietitians can have an impact on ending “canned food fear.” Canned foods fit perfectly into a healthful lifestyle and are affordable, shelf stable, nourishing, and accessible. Teaching people how to obtain and use affordable foods (such as those falling into “10 for $10” sales) is critical.

“Dry milk powder, [for example], is free via the Feeding America network, yet many of my clients do not want it because they don’t know how to utilize it,” Harrison says. RDs can “create recipes that incorporate dry milk powder into casseroles, mac and cheese, smoothies, soups, and quick breads to boost nutrition.”

Plan to Attend More Conferences — and Network
Conferences are instrumental in connecting dietitians to others in the field and helping them to grow both personally and professionally, says Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, director of nutrition for Oldways, which hosts the Oldways Whole Grains Council conferences every other year. The next one is tentatively planned for September 2020 in Latin America.

“The food and nutrition industry is rapidly evolving,” Toups says. “Dietitians need to be continually learning and leading in order to advance their careers and the profession as a whole. This type of in-person networking can have enormous ripple effects. Dietitians can ask questions directly of leading researchers or find inspiration for a new service to offer or a new way to grow their career.”

Toups says that FNCE® is a “must” for dietitians but also to look for conferences catered to dietetics specialties such as sports nutrition, healthy aging, foodservice management, and bariatrics. In addition, TD’s 7th annual Spring Symposium will be held this spring in Savannah, Georgia, from May 17 to 20.

Boost Your Online Presence
Social media is incredibly important, but dietitians should use it primarily as a channel to help them gain credibility and ultimately drive people to their website and/or blog, says Tawnie Kroll, RDN, president of Kroll’s Korner, LLC. This means that your website and blog will need to look professional and offer useful information.

Blog content is vital, as it will help improve a website’s search engine optimization. Kroll suggests RDs set achievable goals for themselves in terms of how often they post. She aims to publish two blog posts per week. She adds that updating old content also is important to keep information relevant. You never know when somebody will stumble upon an article—even if you wrote it years ago.

Always put much thought into what you’re posting and why you’re posting it—blog articles have to be worth the reader’s time. “Anything that you produce should be solving a problem or valuable to the reader in some way,” Kroll says.

Of course, since the goal for your blog is to boost traffic on your website, make sure your site looks appealing and is up to date. If it needs updating, take the time to do so first before driving lots of new traffic through great content, Kroll says.

Write for the Nutrition Field
Have you always dreamed of writing for the dietetics field? Then use this month to start pitching articles to your dietetic practice group (DPG) newsletters, local paper, employer blog, and magazines, or even write that proposal for the book you’ve always wanted to publish.

If you’ve never written professionally before, start small. Maggie Moon, MS, RD, an author, health communications specialist, and former contributing writer for TD, says that new nutrition writers can get triple benefits from volunteering to write for a local dietetics group. You’ll expand your network, give back to the profession, and gain writing experience. Moon says one of her first nutrition writing gigs was at Columbia University Teachers College for her graduate program’s nutrition newsletter, The Grapevine.

“Pitch yourself as an intern to a nutrition writer you respect, asking to write content for their newsletter, blog, or social media in exchange for writing credit and their feedback on your writing,” she suggests. “Or, cowrite a story with an established writer who is willing to mentor you. Try seeking a mentor through a business and communications’ or entrepreneurs’ dietetic practice group. You’ll have a built-in editor and sounding board for your writing as you develop.”

If you’re starting a book proposal, Moon’s best advice is to make sure you choose a topic that “makes your heart and mind sing,” as you’ll be spending many hours researching, writing, and ultimately talking about this subject.

Get More Involved With Your DPG
Increasing your interaction on your DPG’s listserv by posting questions, responding to conversations, volunteering at events, and networking will help you grow as a dietitian while also bettering the field. Sherene Chou, MS, RDN, a sustainable food and nutrition consultant in Los Angeles, says that being involved gives you an “opportunity to shape our profession.

“Take a look at the different dietetic practice groups and member interest groups to see areas you’re most interested in or areas you practice in,” Chou suggests. “Groups are always looking for volunteers. As part of the Vegetarian Nutrition DPG, we have a State Coordinators program. In addition to our national board, we have state leaders that host local events and networking opportunities to support and empower each other for each state. Join a group and ask about volunteer opportunities for newsletter writing, website blog contribution, or just voicing your opinion in the DPG forums. If you’d like to join a leadership position, ask if you can shadow someone in their role or interview them about their experience.”

Get on Social Media
With all of the sensationalism surrounding food, nutrition, and various diets on social media, it’s important for dietitians to be visible on the various social media platforms, says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition in Scarsdale, New York. RDs and other dietetics professionals (such as DTRs) need to stand together on social media and express responsible, science-based nutrition information to the masses.

“Start slow on one or two main platforms and ease your way in,” Amidor suggests. “Instagram and Pinterest are more image-focused, while Twitter is better for news and small bits of information. YouTube is for videos, such as cooking demos, culinary and chronic disease education, and recipe hacks. Determine the best fit for your business.”

Deanna Segrave-Daly, RDN, owner of Teaspoon Communications, LLC, and 2019 Outstanding Social Media Award winner from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adds that it also helps to identify your target audience in choosing the best platform. She says that you don’t have to be on every platform.

“Pick a platform you already have a personal account on and are comfortable with so the learning curve will seem less daunting,” she says. “Start a business account on that platform with your brand name—which simply may be your own name and credentials—and begin to follow like-minded pages and those that inspire you. Start by liking, sharing, and commenting to really get ‘social,’ which will help inspire you for posting on your own account.”

Venture Into Public Speaking
Though the thought of public speaking may be intimidating, it also can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your career, says sustainability expert Chris Vogliano, MS, RD, LD, owner of Forward Eating, based in New Zealand, where Vogliano is currently studying. He says that the best way to get started is to start locally by connecting with community organizations that would love to host a speaker—think Boy or Girl Scouts organizations, local libraries, community clubs, and more.

“If you want to quickly improve your speaking skills by receiving instant feedback, join your local branch of Toastmasters, no matter what your speaking level,” he adds.

Leslie J. Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, owner of Active Eating Advice in Pittsburgh, says that, early on, you should be willing to do speaking gigs for free to build experience. She suggests thinking of it as “free advertising for your business,” and that alone makes it worth your time.

However, Bonci says speaking shouldn’t always be free.

“My advice is to do it once for free, after that, negotiate,” Bonci says. “If they really want you back, ask for compensation. As public speaking becomes one of your ‘services,’ you shouldn’t just give it away for free, all of the time.”

Host Supermarket Events
Developing supermarket events is a great way to branch out into the community. If this is your goal for the month, begin by asking local stores whether they have a wellness program and/or a dietitian on staff. This would be the ideal first point of contact, says Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, owner of Shari Steinbach & Associates, a nutrition and culinary communications consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has worked in the grocery industry for two major retailers in the Midwest.

“Supermarkets are very interested in being good community partners and are always looking for ways to partner with the markets they serve, as it is good for their business,” she says. “For dietitians who are working in the community, the supermarket makes an ideal partner. As RDNs work with clients and patients on adhering to specific dietary plans, they need to include life skills such as grocery shopping and easy food prep. What better place to learn those skills than by helping them build a healthier shopping cart?”

As you develop ideas for an event, Steinbach says to keep seasonal behaviors that shoppers experience in mind. That will help determine what food and nutrition solutions will be most helpful to focus on.

“Ideas include a demo on easy-to-assemble back-to-school lunches in August, a seminar on weight management tips/recipes in January, or recipes for healthy holiday side dishes/appetizers in November,” she says. “Shoppers love ways to make their lives easier, more affordable, and healthier, in that order, so use your imagination, but remember that your goal is to promote the better-for-you choices throughout the entire store. Don’t ever tell shoppers to only shop the perimeter of the store or demonize any foods.”

Create Original Recipes
Developing recipes takes time, but it’s something that can give dietitians increased authority and expertise, says Michelle Dudash, RDN, a Cordon Bleu–certified chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. It really goes a long way when you can say, “this is a recipe I’ve created myself,” she says. Dietitians can share their recipes with their employers or foodservice departments to be used for patients or employee meals, with their private practice clients, on their blogs, in newsletters, and at community events.

Dudash says her starting point was tweaking existing recipes—that is, using substitutions to make recipes more healthful—something that she’d always done. But when she wrote her cookbook, she says she became a “recipe development machine,” creating 110 recipes in five months. She says that, when developing recipes, you must write down every detail. You can’t “cook from the hip” when creating recipes others will use.

Though using preexisting recipes is a good starting point, she also says this is an area to tread cautiously. The International Association of Culinary Professionals has an industry standard that if you change three ingredients or more, you can call it your own. But you must rewrite your introduction and procedure in your own words.

“The book Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob is an excellent starting point for anyone that’s interested in recipe development,” Dudash says.

Get Involved With Faith-Based Nutrition
For many, the month of December is a time of year to celebrate one’s faith. But some dietitians also are incorporating their spiritual beliefs into their practice. Faith-based nutrition counseling revolves around the idea that prayer, meditation, affirmation, and belief in a higher power can help individuals overcome health challenges, Brown-Riggs says.

“Unlike traditional nutrition counseling that focuses on the medical model, spiritual beliefs are central to faith-based nutrition practice,” Brown-Riggs explains. “The shared faith and beliefs provide a strong foundation for connection and rapport, which can facilitate better outcomes. For instance, black Americans tend to be people of faith and approach health challenges as a test of their spiritual beliefs. These beliefs can impact how they approach diabetes self-management. A faith-based RDN understands these spiritual beliefs and is able to address them in a way that resonates with the client.”

Brown-Riggs says the best place for dietitians to get started is within their own faith-based organization. Start by working with members of your own congregation and plan to grow from there.

— Lindsey Getz is an award-winning freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.