June 2007

Tips for the Stay-at-Home RD
By April Rudat, MS Ed, RD, LDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 9 No. 6 P. 46

Is balance possible for the female RD who wishes to be a devout “at-home” mother and an active nutrition professional?

In a profession where the American Dietetic Association (ADA) says 95% of the practitioners are women and 47% are of childbearing age, it is fitting to discuss potential career-related activities for those RDs who wish to stay at home with their children. Although the ADA may not have accurate numbers of how many women become stay-at-home moms, one can guess that the numbers are trending upward. In fact, a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau report showed that 5.6 million women stayed at home with their children in 2004, up from 5.4 million in 2003.

Since many dietitians are passionate about their profession, they may yearn to reconnect with their career even after deciding to stay at home with their children. Motherhood is fulfilling, but an RD may want to preserve her role as a nutrition professional in addition to her role as a stay-at-home mom.

Having experienced these particular cravings, I would like to share 10 ideas for reconnecting with the profession.

1. Join Dietetic Practice Groups and Listservs
One of the first routes to restoring your professional involvement is joining networking groups such as dietetic practice groups (DPGs) and/or listservs. While wearing your pajamas, you can communicate intellectually with others in the profession. You can weigh in on controversial topics and mentor those who are new to the field. You can revive your clinical skills by providing others with advice based on your past experiences, allowing you to maintain a sense of competence as a dietitian.

While you must be an ADA member to access the association’s free general listserv, there are non-ADA listservs that have been created by RDs, such as RD USA, available here. Also, many state and district dietetic associations have listserv networking groups available.

Although ADA DPGs include an additional membership fee (roughly $20 to $35), you may discover that DPGs are wonderful resources on specific topic areas. Speak to colleagues who belong to DPGs for recommendations or explore the Web sites of DPGs that interest you. There are many DPG choices, all available at www.eatright.org.

While listservs involve a great deal of e-mail on a daily basis (and even more if you join multiple listservs), listservs do allow “out-of-touch” practitioners to feel connected to the profession. Not only do listservs provide networking with nutrition professionals from across the country, but their communication can also lead to career opportunities. Listservs can provide just enough communication with the profession for a stay-at-home mom to attain a sense of belonging and identity.

2. Become a Freelance Writer
While you’re sitting at your computer writing responses to listserv e-mails about your expertise in a particular area of nutrition, someone on the listserv may suggest that you write on this topic for a newsletter or magazine. Think about it: You can share your expertise with a magazine, assist others, and make money—all from the comfort of your home.

You can write for your district or state dietetic association newsletter, DPG newsletters, local or hometown newspaper, church newsletter, etc to gain writing experience and exposure. Revamp your resume by adding publications of all sorts. Check out www.writersmarket.com or look at the latest version of the book Writer’s Market for a listing of magazines that may be interested in your work. (Writer’s Market can also help those interested in publishing a book.)

Most national and trade magazines have a process called a query, whereby you write to an editor and include specific information about your proposed article. Magazines will generally have query information available on their Web site. Remember to keep your query short and sweet, as editors are busy people. And finally, follow their guidelines and meet their deadlines so you may potentially write for them again.

While a beginning freelance writer typically receives lower monetary compensation despite vast knowledge and expertise, there are definite benefits to becoming a freelance writer while a stay-at-home mom. Writing allows mothers to indulge in a little “me” time. In addition, the author can write whenever she wants. While deadlines can come quickly, especially for a busy mom, most magazines provide ample time before the article needs to be submitted.

3. Write a Book or Cookbook
Have you experienced something so extraordinary that you could literally write a book on the topic? Are you a witty, creative writer? Can you draw illustrations and create a children’s story to accompany your art? Have you created myriad recipes that you would like to share with others? Have you always thought about writing a book but never sat down to do so?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have a good book in you. In my case, when my breast-fed twins were nearly 6 months old, I noticed that they were taking longer naps and requiring less breast-feedings. I had time to myself. It was then that I felt a need to do something more. So I headed to the computer, and six months later, a book on breast-feeding twins was born.

Once a book is born, the author must make a decision: publish with a publishing house or self-publish. There are numerous considerations: Is the book written for a small niche? Has the author been rejected by agents more than 10 times? Does the author simply want to help others with her writings and not care much about fame and fortune? Does the author have other priorities (eg, children) that would make marketing the book in full force virtually impossible?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions may lead the author to self-publishing. Self-publishers have more freedom, create their own deadlines, and keep more of the profit from book sales since royalties are not split between agents, publishers, lawyers, etc. But, self-publishers must hire their own editors, illustrators, and self-publishing or print-on-demand companies, all of which involve fronting costs. Self-publishers must also do some marketing if they want to regain any of the money they put into the project.

On the other hand, a well-known RD with a national platform or previous book publication may have no problem attracting an agent and/or publisher from the start. In this instance, it would make the most sense to publish with a publishing house. There are benefits to working with a publishing company, including technical, editorial, marketing, and financial support. In working with a publisher, the author does not have to worry about formatting, printing, or distribution. However, like a self-publisher, the author must make a good marketing effort to sell some books.

While editing, publishing, and marketing a new book can be time consuming, stressful, and frustrating, publishing a book that will help others can provide great self-fulfillment and additional meaning in life. In fact, most authors say that despite all the stress and hard work, publishing a book is a great life accomplishment.

4. Develop a Web Site
You might be wondering, “What can I do with a Web site as a stay-at-home RD?” The possibilities are endless. On a Web site, you can sell related materials: nutrition handouts or forms, series of classes, presentations, programs, nutrition products (eg, gluten-free foods or cookbooks), or services for consumers or nutrition professionals (eg, medical nutrition therapy billers). And you can develop all of these at home in your free time and upload them once you are ready.

For instance, take Ann Litt, MS, RD, LD, an author, a speaker, and a former stay-at-home mom. Litt sells four products on her Web site: three books and one kit for RDs (www.annlittrd.com). She explains, “My Web site presently functions more as a storefront to allow people to purchase the products when they hear me speak.”

Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RD, CDE, CNSD, a stay-at-home mom, recently launched her Web site, www.sbanutrition.com. This Web site offers free, printable children’s nutrition information, and Halas-Liang hopes it will eventually be funded by the sales of her online products, such as t-shirts and onesies. “Sbanutrition.com has close to 100 contributing registered dietitians from across the U.S., and it is rewarding as I’m helping others create a healthier lifestyle and prevent chronic diseases that are affecting America’s future,” she says.

While Web sites require maintenance and cost money to launch, you can earn significant income and generate excellent exposure for your business. In addition, publishing a Web site can allow stay-at-home moms/RDs to attain a sense of accomplishment, connect with other nutrition professionals, and offer expertise to those who need it.

5. Begin Part-time Telenutrition Counseling or Web Counseling
Part-time telenutrition or Web counseling can provide stay-at-home RDs with both active work and steady income. Jan Patenaude, RD, of Signet Diagnostic Corporation (www.nowleap.com), explains, “I’ve trained a number of stay-at-home moms to do LEAP [lifestyle, eating, and performance programs] telecounseling from home. The hours are flexible, and they love it.”

While Patenaude says an RD cannot complete physical assessments in telecounseling, she has found the approach quite effective. “Clients like the fact that you can work with them while they are at work or at home; and if you have a ‘no show,’ you’re at home and can easily find something else to do,” says Patenaude.

Michal Hogan, RD, LD, CLT, works from home combining telecounseling and Web site sales, and thus far, she has received more than 500 nationwide referrals for her practice (www.NutritionResultsOrder.com). “I sell disease management testing and therapy for IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], IBD [inflammatory bowel disease], migraines, fibromyalgia, and chronic sinusitis, and I sell the LEAP Certified Therapist Training Program,” says Hogan. In addition, Hogan says those who are disabled or in extreme pain appreciate that they can access her services via phone or the Internet, although she notes that “you can end up working 24/7 if you aren’t careful.”

In this era of Internet explosion, it is only natural that Web counseling would be born. Having created a Web-based nutrition counseling program with a patent pending, Meri Raffetto, RD, LDN, is the founder of Real Living Nutrition Services (www.reallivingnutrition.com), a “password-protected, Web-based weight management program that includes a lifestyle assessment, weekly e-learning sessions, and weekly e-counseling sessions.” Raffetto explains, “We license our programs to RDs in private practice or to those who are stay-at-home moms/entrepreneurs. [Most of the people interested in licensing are stay-at-home moms.] It is their business, so they get their own clients, but we provide all the tools [client management, etc] for them online.”

In both Web counseling and telecounseling, the RD is not able to see the client. Therefore, accurate physical assessments and detection of ambivalent nonverbal behaviors or poor eye contact cannot be detected. However, this type of work can easily fit into the schedule of a stay-at-home mom who wants to begin part-time work. There is flexibility in scheduling sessions since the work can be done on weekends or during evenings from the comfort of the RD’s home. Finally, to maintain balance, the RD can limit the number of hours or clients if she desires.

6. Provide Presentations to Community and/or Professional Groups
To remain active in the profession, give back to the community, and maintain or gain public speaking skills, stay-at-home dietitians can provide talks or lectures to community and/or professional groups. For example, many church groups, community groups, and schools would jump at a chance to hear the latest on healthy eating, obesity prevention, or fitness tips from an RD.

In just one or two afternoons, you can create a dazzling PowerPoint presentation. Have the group provide the audio visual (AV) equipment, a large meeting space, and copies of handouts for each attendee, and you can donate your time to provide the community with a valuable session. While many RDs caution other professionals about giving too much away gratis, the presenting experience can serve to bolster your confidence as an “unemployed” nutrition professional and boost your resume to fill the empty space caused by a lapse in employment.

If you have specialized or unique skills in a specific area of nutrition, you can also offer professional groups a presentation—this time for a fee. Again, you may request that they provide AV equipment, a large meeting space, and handouts for all attendees, and you can charge for your time planning the talk, your travel, and your time at the actual presentation. You can also set the time of the presentation based on child care availability.

Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, a stay-at-home mom, authored three books, created copy-reproducible handouts, and landed freelancing opportunities, which led to speaking engagements and media work (www.healthyfoodzone.com). “What comes to mind is doing a radio interview over the phone with my 6-month-old son, Nicolas, in the baby swing. He was happy and next to me, and I was working. We should all be so lucky,” says Swinney.

While there is work involved in presentations (eg, preparing, practicing, marketing), presenting develops public speaking skills and can refresh clinical knowledge since presentations require research and literature searches. Keep in mind, however, that once you provide one community group with a gratis presentation, others may contact you to do the same for their group. An easy solution is to limit how many free talks you are willing to offer (eg, one free presentation every other month).

7. Volunteer for the Local, State, or National Dietetic Organization or a Dietetic Practice Group Office
Volunteering for an office in DPGs or the local, state, or national dietetic association will keep the stay-at-home dietitian busy. Volunteering provides a sense of belonging to a passionate group, and providing input while on a board of directors can truly lead to environmental changes in our profession. Volunteering, while time consuming, can be a meaningful and valuable experience.

As a stay-at-home dietitian, however, heed the following advice prior to volunteering:

• Find out what the position will entail prior to saying “yes.” Get the information in writing, if possible, so that you can be fully informed prior to accepting this responsibility.

• State clearly what you are willing and able to do while on the board. (The person who is known as a stay-at-home mom may be offered additional work since other professionals may assume she has more time.)

• Rather than being assigned projects, request that you are asked first to complete work, since pressing family issues often arise without notice.

• Since volunteering may become time-consuming, consider volunteering for only one position at a time.

One of the best times to volunteer is when you are at home. As a stay-at-home mom, you may have more time compared with when you will be employed again full-time or when your children are older and involved in school, extracurricular activities, etc. As mentioned, volunteer positions can keep you busy; however, they are outstanding additions to your resume and can lead to future employment opportunities, dietetic awards, and professional exposure.

8. Obtain Certifications/Credentials
While there are myriad certifications available for RDs, many full-time practitioners do not have the time to complete these courses and earn those additional credentials. Therefore, as a stay-at-home mom, the RD may find that this is the perfect time to obtain a certification. In addition, many certification or credentialing trainings are now offered online.

While it is true that some credentialing programs are costly and require practice hours and examinations, you will have greater skills and will be more employable with additional certifications and credentials.

9. Begin Graduate School or a Doctorate Program at the Local University or Online
When you have spousal or family support in the evenings, there’s no better time to begin working toward a master’s degree or doctorate since courses are mainly held at night. In addition, while staying at home is a full-time job, beginning a higher education program can provide the stay-at-home dietitian with a sense of accomplishment. Finally, master’s or doctorate programs can be completed part- or full-time at the local university or online; therefore, the stay-at-home dietitian has the freedom to set up her schedule as she chooses.

Linda McDonald, MS, RD, owner of www.supermarketsavvy.com, obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees while her children were at home. McDonald says, “The classes were much easier than my first try at college before marriage, [and] I feel that this was because of a change in attitude—I wanted to be there and had a goal.” While McDonald thought it might be too late to start a career, now, 25 years later, she is glad she had the time to further develop a fulfilling career.

10. Teach at the Local University, for a Distance Education Dietetics Program, or for a Continuing Education Provider
Teaching for a continuing education provider, at the local university, or via a distance education program can work into a stay-at-home mom’s schedule very well. Although all of these choices require preplanning, preparation, and hard work, there can be much flexibility. Those providing online continuing education courses or distance education university courses have flexibility in when they would like to complete their work. Those instructing at the university level can often make preferences for the best day and time for their class. In addition, graduate-level courses are typically held in the evening, which could prevent the need for child care altogether if a spouse or family member is available after normal business hours.

Rosanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN, a stay-at-home mom, teaches for Penn State’s online university World Campus. She says, “The course I teach is completely Web-based and self-directed, [which] includes guiding students, correcting lessons and exams, and communicating with Penn State World Campus. It is a very pleasant working relationship. I can sit with my 4-year-old while I work on my laptop to check e-mail or correct student assignments.”

Halas-Liang also instructs online continuing education courses through several colleges and universities. She notes that she enjoys switching gears from play groups to computer work for the online courses. “Teaching also keeps you current, as you’re always researching and reading,” she says.

Such positions typically require a minimum of a master’s degree, and teaching courses can take much time and preparation. Salary may not compensate as well as other positions in dietetics; however, in many instances, the benefit of a flexible schedule combined with meaningful work outweighs the downfalls. In addition, becoming a university instructor or developing a course for a continuing education provider is a good experience to have on a resume.

In Conclusion
Even if you are not a stay-at-home mom, you can be productive and successful as a stay-at-home RD. Annie Kay, MS, RD, LDN, RYT, who works at home and sells products/services on the Web (www.anniebkay.com), says that even though she misses having a team of coworkers, she is able to arrange her day as she pleases and take on meaningful work.

There is also beauty in each of the aforementioned activities in that one choice can lead to many other exciting opportunities. In my case, I joined listservs and volunteered for the local and state dietetic associations, and then I was offered a position at the local university to instruct a graduate-level dietetics course. Then, another dietitian contacted me to do some work for a Web site she was launching, and she also asked if I would teach an online continuing education course in the future. My point is that completing any of the aforementioned activities will not only help you retain your unique identity but may also lead to future career opportunities once the children are grown.

While caring for children as a stay-at-home mother is an important, rewarding, and special role, career activities can serve to enhance your sense of accomplishment, identity, and purpose in life.

Can women have it all? My loud, proud answer is yes—but the key to having it all is balance.

— April Rudat, MS Ed, RD, LDN, is a stay-at-home mom who has mastered most of the aforementioned strategies to keep active as an RD. She recently published her first book, Oh Yes You Can Breastfeed Twins! Visit her Web site at www.ohyesyoucanbreastfeedtwins.com.