September 2016 Issue
TD Exclusive: Meet Lucille Beseler
By Juliann Schaeffer
Vol. 18 No. 9 P. 44
Today's Dietitian sits down with the new president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who offers her best career advice and lays out her most ambitious aspirations for the organization.
Lucille Beseler, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, FAND, recently embarked on her 2016–2017 term as the president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy). The founder and president of the Family Nutrition Center of South Florida, Beseler opened up her nutrition practice in 1991 after she picked up all of her belongings (and her biggest aspirations) and planted them in Florida soil.
Since then, Beseler has counseled countless families, authored the book Nurturing with Nutrition: The Essential Guide for Feeding Infants and Toddlers, mastered the art of public speaking, and pioneered reimbursement coverage and access issues for nutrition services. A past president of the Academy's Florida chapter, Beseler has received accolades from numerous Florida organizations for her work to fight childhood obesity, among other public health concerns.
Beseler, a New York native who graduated first from Queens College, City University of New York and then from New York University (NYU) with her master's degree, is ready for a big year at the Academy—and she's planning on using her decades of experience to guide her as well as her entrepreneurial spirit to get things done.
Beseler's business acumen comes up often in this article, and that's no coincidence. As a business owner who's kept her team together for more than 20 years, she's learned a thing or two about success—and she wants to use those insights to help every member of the Academy shine brightly right alongside her. A large part of that involves brushing up on business basics (something she thinks no nutrition professional should be without), and she's happy to keep that conversation moving.
Reimbursement and access issues, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and education challenges from a burgeoning class of health coaches are all on the docket for Beseler's term. Whatever comes her way, Beseler is now at the Academy's helm—and she's heralding more than 100,000 nutrition professionals to heed the call of change in the health care system and rise to the biggest issues facing the nutrition industry today.
Today's Dietitian (TD): What does a typical workday look like for you?
Beseler: I divide my workday between administrative work, clinical counseling, and Academy business. On average, I see eight to 10 clients/patients per day. My workday starts at 7:30 or 8 AM and typically ends at 6 PM with another hour after dinner with e-mails or finishing articles and the like. I try to work a half-day on Friday but it doesn't always work out that way. Friday afternoon is set aside for paperwork.
TD: Who or what inspired your career path?
Beseler: My mother inspired me to work hard and be self-sufficient. We come from a long line of hard-working women. I started working at 16 years old and luckily have not stopped. My love of food and health brought me to the area of nutrition.
TD: Are there any mentors who helped guide you in any particular way along your professional pursuits?
Beseler: After I graduated with a four-year degree in food and nutrition, I started working as a dietary supervisor in a hospital that was an Aramark account, as I was going to graduate school at NYU. The foodservice director enrolled me in a tuition assistance program and helped me finish graduate school and receive a promotion as a chief clinical dietitian.
When I moved on to working in pediatrics, I was given an opportunity from the chief of genetics at a NY Children's Hospital even though I didn't have any experience in pediatrics or genetics.
However, the biggest change in my career came when I moved to Florida and made the decision to open my own business. My RDN friends in Florida have been supportive and mentors in my volunteer life. I affectionately tell Christine Stapell, MS, RDN, LDN, the executive director of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that [my career path] is all her fault as she was the first to approach me to serve on the Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Council.
TD: What's your best advice for dietitians early in their career looking to stand out and make their mark (and an impact) in today's nutrition space?
Beseler: I'm honored to be part of an esteemed group of RDNs who have been identified as entrepreneurial. As an entrepreneur, working hard is paramount. I often speak with RDNs who tell me they want to start a business and have a "private practice on the side." This always makes me chuckle because I think if you want to own a business, you must understand it takes lots of hard work and long days—but it will be the most rewarding experience. It's not for everyone though, and it's not something you can do on the side.
For nutrition newcomers: First figure out what you want to do. Get experience and hit the ground running. I find a key to success is being flexible, which helps me reinvent myself when the marketplace changes.
TD: What is your proudest career accomplishment?
Beseler: Starting and maintaining a viable business for 25 years. Having employees who have been with our business for 10 years. Being an employer is something I am very proud of and take very seriously. I don't only make decisions for myself but consider what is in the best interest of my staff and the future viability of the business. Sometimes these decisions are not always well accepted, but in the long run they're necessary.
My business started in 1991 when I decided to move from New York to South Florida and landed in Boca Raton. I received my master's from NYU and had worked for Aramark as a chief clinical dietitian. Before my move, I worked for five years at a children's hospital in genetics and gastroenterology. This gave me an extensive background in pediatric and adolescent nutrition. When I moved to Florida, I knew I wanted to continue in the area of pediatrics. The only children's hospital was approximately 50 miles away in Miami. I decided I didn't want to work in a hospital, but instead I wanted to start my own business.
TD: What is your nutrition philosophy, and what experiences or perspectives have helped to shape its specifics?
Beseler: That's simple: to help people achieve good health with good nutrition. I believe that if consumers had access to RDNs and NDTRs [nutrition and dietetics technicians, registered], it could make a significant difference in their overall health, reduce their dependence on drugs, and improve their quality of life. Lack of access is a concern as well as lack of RDNs providing services.
For example, we have an inadequate number of RDNs who are Medicare providers. Why? Medicare is a good and consistent payer. No copayments are necessary, and all we need is a script from the referring MD.
Plus, you get to work with a great population, as Medicare recipients are mostly the elderly. I like working with our "young at heart" elderly. One of my patients brought her two daughters and her granddaughter to meet me. It was an honor to meet her family, and she was so proud of her progress with getting her diabetes under control. If we don't help Medicare recipients to use MNT services, it will be regarded as an underused and unnecessary service. I believe that many other RDNs don't understand nutrition reimbursement and as a result do not want to accept insurance.
TD: What do you do to stay current with the latest nutrition research?
Beseler: Mostly through webinars, conferences, and reading. The Academy has wonderful webinars through the various DPGs [dietetic practice groups] and MIGs [member interest groups]. And I never miss the Florida Academy annual meeting or Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE)®.
TD: As a professional speaker, you've presented in front of thousands of your peers. What topics have your previous speeches addressed and which have you most enjoyed speaking about?
Beseler: I have spoken at national and state meetings as well as corporate events. My areas of specialty include business management for the nutrition professional, reimbursement and practice management, children's health and nutrition issues, wellness, and diabetes management.
My favorite topic is reimbursement and [practice] management. It's extremely gratifying to help colleagues learn about reimbursement and how to become successful in practice.
TD: Any advice for dietitians new to public speaking on how to both educate and entertain your audience?
Beseler: Public speaking will become easier the more you do it. Do your homework, practice, and have fun. I always think my jokes are just as important as the information I want my audience to know.
TD: How do you believe your previous experiences led to (and prepared you for) your term as the Academy's president?
Beseler: I have spent the last 20 years volunteering to advance the field of nutrition and dietetics. I have served in the following positions, all of which have prepared me for what to expect as the Academy's president:
• board of directors for the Academy;
• chair of ANDPAC (the Academy's political action committee);
• president of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and
• chair for the Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Council of the Florida Department of Health for nine years.
The skills I have learned from being self-employed also shouldn't be discounted. This includes being flexible while maintaining your beliefs and vision. I've watched individuals lose exciting opportunities because they couldn't compromise. Think about what you may gain from being flexible. Don't be afraid to change your mind when new information is presented.
Also, no matter how many times you fail you must keep trying. I've reinvented myself and my business several times to stay competitive in a changing health care environment.
Finally, say yes all the time and then figure out the logistics later. I try never to let an opportunity pass. Some of the most successful projects I have embarked on were ones I had no game plan for when I first started. Jump in and learn to swim.
TD: What are the issues that you most hope to address or spread awareness of during your 2016–2017 term? What would you like readers to know about your most ambitious aspirations as president as well as the greatest challenges nutrition professionals face?
Beseler: I have lots of ideas and big plans for my term as president of the Academy. Most can be broken down into five key areas:
1. Unite Our Base
The Academy credentials 100,000 individuals. To secure our future in this current health care environment, our members must unite and prove we can reduce health care costs by improving outcomes. Health care is changing, and we are in a perfect situation to change and adapt.
Professional development and lifelong learning opportunities, such as FNCE®, can show our members how to unite, how to adapt, how to improve outcomes, and how to secure our future.
2. Improve Our Business Skills
No matter what area of practice our members work in, we can improve ourselves, our capabilities, and our potential by improving our business skills. What do I mean by business skills? Business skills include the following:
• taking risks;
• having an entrepreneurial spirit;
• motivating and encouraging each other; and
• being financially astute and willing to reinvent practice models to stay competitive.
My background is someone who started and built a business focusing on providing nutrition services through many venues, with the single purpose of improving the nutritional health of the community. We all share this sense of purpose. How can we achieve it?
3. Education Challenges
We need to identify and address education challenges and create sufficiently diverse nutrition professionals for the growing demands of the wellness industry.
PharmDs, RNs, and aides are being trained as health coaches. Weight Watchers is poised to take control of diabetes group care. This could have a disastrous effect on public health and safety. We can't allow others to lead our industry. It's crucial that we engage practitioners, educators, and business people in discussions about our education system.
4. Top Health Issues and How We Can Accomplish Change
Top health issues include the following:
• childhood/adult obesity;
• chronic diseases related to nutrition: cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease; and
• food insecurity.
The role of nutrition in the health of our nation has been ignored for too long. We need to showcase what we do, how we do it, and the great outcomes we can achieve.
We can prove that nutrition services treat obesity in children and adults. This will gain the attention of insurance companies and decision makers, resulting in more consumer access to cost-effective nutrition services.
5. Highlight the Importance of Being Business Savvy
As a small business owner, I've been called a trailblazer in our profession. However, I don't consider myself a trailblazer but just an RDN who started a business to make a living.
But RDNs don't need to run their own businesses to make productive use of business concepts and know-how. I want to educate all members to make them more business savvy: members working in school nutrition, clinical settings, research, and community nutrition. Too many of us simply don't understand the business of health care.
For example, obtaining reimbursement for our services is a business issue. The bottom line is: How do you make yourself viable and valuable and indispensable, whatever your area of practice? Together we can lift up all members, no matter what we do for a living.
TD: What do you see as one of the greatest challenges for RDNs right now?
Beseler: The greatest challenge I see facing RDNs and NDTRs is to be relevant in today's health care environment. The tools we need to stay relevant and beat the competition include improving our skill sets—the more services we can provide patients or health care systems, the more indispensable we become.
Our profession is science based, and we must always bring the conversation back to evidence-based science. This elevates our profession and improves patient and client outcomes. In addition to giving the best service possible, we must evaluate the services provided by our competitors and seize opportunities to do them better, cheaper, and more efficiently.
TD: You've worked with many families on various adult and pediatric nutrition issues. What have those experiences taught you as a nutrition counselor, and how has your approach changed over the years?
Beseler: First, to be client and patient focused. We must listen and provide them with services that can help them. Counseling is not about promoting an agenda. Make it simple and be flexible. I realize that most people can only comprehend a small amount of new information at a time.
TD: What do you wish all parents knew about how they can help instill in their children a healthful relationship with food?
Beseler: Parental modeling and family meals have the greatest effect on helping children develop good healthful eating habits. Excessive emphasis on weight can have a negative influence on children's self-esteem. Cooking brings your family together and helps children learn to appreciate good food.
TD: In your view, what are some easy and practical ways RDNs can help clients take the focus off of weight in today's weight-obsessed culture and instead put it onto cooking and overall health?
Beseler: RDNs and NDTRs should not focus on the scale but on other measures of health. If you're talking to adults, focus on blood pressure, blood sugars, and body composition. With children, focus on improvements in eating patterns and behaviors. And celebrate kids eating vegetables or trying new foods every day.
TD: In your opinion, what's the biggest nutrition issue facing the public today? And what is the role that dietitians should play in facing this problem?
Beseler: Obesity and prediabetes are at epidemic proportions, especially among our youth. RDNs and NDTRs need to reach people in an approachable and compassionate way. Being the food police doesn't help people make positive changes in their lifestyle. I worry that RDNs and NDTRs are forgetting the science and adding the fad. Engaging in food shaming is not acceptable for anyone. So our role is to break down the science, make it understandable, and help our clients make meaningful changes in their diet to improve health outcomes. And while we are at it, let's make it fun!
TD: Give us a peek inside your refrigerator/cupboard. What are the mainstays always in your kitchen—and why?
Beseler: My love of food and cooking came from my family. We are all great cooks because of my grandfather. His philosophy was simple: You buy the best ingredients you can afford and only the freshest. As an Italian American, I ate Mediterranean dishes all the time.
I started cooking when I was 5 years old with my grandfather. I cook from scratch. At 10 years old, I was making soufflés from Julia Child's cookbook. I love to cook and love to eat.
So in my fridge you'll see fresh vegetables (broccoli and tomatoes are my favorite), fruit, milk, cheese (Asiago is my favorite), eggs, parsley, basil (that I grow), olives, and always water. In the cupboard, there's always pasta (Italian imported only), olive oil, cooking stock, and lots of spices.
TD: Is there a family recipe that's particularly meaningful to you that you'd like to share with readers?
Beseler: The first dish my grandfather taught me to make is a simple pasta made with fresh tomato and fresh peas. When I make it, I think of him. (See recipe on page 47.)
TD: What foods do you crave?
Beseler: I can't say I really crave any particular foods, since I cook what I feel like eating. But my favorite foods include pastas (of course). I prepare pasta as my grandfather did: not only with fresh tomato sauce but also with cauliflower or broccoli or fish and clams. I love his simple roasted chicken with tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, and roasted vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil.
I also have one cup of coffee per day, seldom two.
TD: How do you like to stay active?
Beseler: Going to the gym, walking, or swimming. Because I sit for long periods of time for work, I have a motion strider under my desk and use it daily at least 30 minutes at lunchtime or during breaks. I also have weights that I use at my desk.
TD: What would you like to share with readers about your personal life—how have your family, friends, or lifestyle helped to shape who you are?
Beseler: I am single, so I have a lot of time to work!
My immediate family consists of my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews. They are all very supportive and have helped me with my business every step of the way. Each of them has pitched in and done some work for my business. My mother and sister are financial professionals and accountants so they keep me in line and fiscally responsible. Through the Academy on the state and national level, I have made close friends that I treasure for their support and guidance.
TD: What's one thing most people might be surprised to learn about you?
Beseler: I can think of three things:
1. I am an artist but unfortunately haven't had much time for painting lately. Acrylic is my paint of choice, and I love painting flowers.
2. This New York transplant is a big country music fan, and I've attended the Country Music Awards nine years in a row with my mother.
3. I'm a handy gal. I'm good with a hammer and screwdriver. This skill comes in handy when the toilet in the office needs repair.
TD: Any other advice you'd like to share with readers?
Beseler: Reinventing yourself is imperative for success. And don't be afraid of making mistakes. My favorite quote is from actor-singer Danny Kaye: "Life is a great big canvas and you should throw all the paint on it that you can."
My business has evolved over the years, much as I have. I've learned from my mistakes and have developed skills I never thought I would while in graduate school. I've developed many projects—some have proved to be successful and others flopped. But I have never stopped trying. I've been fortunate to have support from family members who have helped to mold my business education and encourage me through the flops.
— Juliann Schaeffer is a freelance food and health writer based outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a frequent contributor to Today's Dietitian.