My RD Journey
I’m putting together what I had in 2 blog posts into 1. This is a combination of my personal experience and some little information nuggets that might hopefully help those of you on the same journey.
As I post more to the blog I will link specific posts in here for easy reference. Thanks for your patience :)
Before I begin, I want to stress that this was my journey. It looks different for different people. Honestly, compared to many people I know I had an “easy” road. Everything pretty much worked out. There were certainly large bumps but at the end of the day it was relatively straightforward. Some of my friends completed their pre requisites at multiple schools while managing a full time job, raising kids, and dealing with life. Mad respect for them.
I remember being a sophomore in college (2014) finally feeling like I had a real passion for something and being shot down with no direction. I walked into my academic advisor’s office and told her my desired plan and all she could give me was that she was sorry DePaul could not help me and that I would have to transfer to Purdue.
After lots of tears, I not only found out that I could stay at DePaul but that it was actually the best choice career wise since the field is now moving towards all new RDs having a masters degree by 2024. Choosing to stay at DePaul to get all my pre requisites and field experience while keeping my supportive friends and family around was the best possible decision. I earned by BS at DePaul then MS at CSULA. I hope this post might give you a little direction and some inspiration in seeing someone whose RD dream was 7 years in the making! I sit for my exam later this July and I could not be more excited (and terrified).
Like I said, there are many ways to become an RD but they all lead to CDR (the Commission on Dietetic Registration). These are the people who receive all the information from your schooling via your director and preceptors (transcripts and internship evaluations) and say yes, you may now have your verification statement to register to take the national exam which ultimately grants you the RD/RDN after your name. So, as long as your road is leading there- you are doing it right.
How I prepared:
I earned my BS in Health Science from DePaul University in Chicago which meant that almost every prerequisite was completed in my undergrad without me doing very much extra. I did however have to take 2 summer classes at CSULA my junior year of college back home in LA and take an Econ class through the business school at DePaul. Since I decided on dietetics sophomore year, I had some time to move things around in my schedule and check my classes against what I knew I needed for my program. In addition to the below I had a full course load of other classes that allowed my to earn my BS. I really appreciated DePaul’s focus on health disparities and the wider lens of health from a community perspective.
I would suggest you find the prerequisite list for the program you are wishing to be admitted to and work off that. MAKE SURE YOU TAKE A LAB WITH EVERY SCIENCE CLASS. I know people who had to re-take microbiology and anatomy and physiology etc. because they just took the lecture portion. Oofh please don’t put yourself through that!
The list may look something like this.
So once I had everything done there I filled out an application to CSULA and sent that baby in! Yes, I put all my eggs in one basket.
I also did some shadowing and had hospital experience in my undergrad through Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago where I was a college volunteer 1x a week on the neurology floor for about 4 months which then led to the opportunity to shadow a wonderful RD there, Ann. She worked in diabetes education and I learned and was exposed to a lot. If you have an opportunity to do something like this near you or work in food service down in the kitchen that would be awesome. I don’t think its 100% needed but it certainly can’t hurt and will give you some real life visuals when getting into classes that talk about stuff like MNT and food service, respectively.
The letters of recommendation I used were from my Anatomy and Physiology professor who I ended up being a TA for, and Ann at Luries. I felt incredibly grateful for the kind words they wrote! My advice would be to find people who know you personally and have seen your work, if possible.
I remember nothing from my personal statement so I would just say be true to yourself and explain why you have passion for the field!
Also: please call in to the staff at the nutrition department office because applications 100% get lost- like mine. If it wasn’t for Marivic walking to the mailroom and searching for the lost mail I never would have gotten into CSULA. Always always always advocate for yourself even if you feel like you are being annoying by calling and kindly checking in on something as important as your graduate school application.
SO- I was grateful to be accepted in the spring of 2016 ( my senior year) to the Masters of Nutritional Science and Coordinated Dietetic Program at California State University Los Angeles and I started classes that summer- 7 days after I graduated in Chicago. I wasted no time- ha!
Grad school started June 2016. I knew not a single soul on campus and had zero friends. Coming from a sorority and community at DePaul to nothing was so scary for me and a really hard transition.
How my program worked was 1 year of the upper level nutrition courses (if you got your BS in nutrition these would be taken your junior and senior year), 1 year Masters level classes, and 1 year of a dietetic internship + thesis writing mixed in there. That’s 3 years total.
So year 1 was all the fun hands on stuff like food science labs and working in food service or community nutrition. I made so many baked goods I can’t even tell you. Please enjoy the following hair net photos.
We also took things like Medical Nutrition Therapy, Advanced Nutrition, Community Nutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition etc. It was a really intense year with long days on campus. I remember several 12 hour campus days a week starting with an 8 am lecture, lab in the middle of the day and night class. The kicker was Advanced Nutrition and MNT on FRIDAY EVENINGS 6-9pm. Ugh we were zombies after those weeks.
Here is an example of the classes you might have in your program too.
Here is us after our LAST MNT Final. One of the hardest tests in my 3 years!
Friend update: These ladies above mean so much to me! We have done a lot of life together in and out of school and I feel grateful to have made such a wonderful group of friends and now colleagues. Leaps and bounds from Day 1 on that campus where I didn’t know a soul. I hope you get a great friend or group of friends out of your program because this isn’t a field you can survive in alone I can promise you that. Make many bridges and don’t burn them :)
Ok back to regular programming.
This year was all 5000 level classes. If you got your BS in nutrition and applied for a MS in nutrition these are likely what you would take (or something similar) and it would just be about a year!
We went from having exams almost every week to zero exams. Masters year was really only long papers and lots of presentations. I loved this year. We really got to take a step back and look at nutrition + health as a whole- much more macro vs year one of the teeny tiny micronutrients interactions and details of chronic kidney disease, for example. We had a lot of heated discussions in class. I can say that for sure.
I then ended up doing my thesis for the Y and loved teaching workshops. They just took the links off the website and I’m so sad. If you would like to see my work please send me an email!
This was the year I really started to speak up about weight inclusivity in nutrition. I sounded like a broken record but my cohort caught on and so did my professors. I’m really proud for being vulnerable. Of course not everyone agreed with me- in fact most didnt- and that’s ok. I’m happy that I was able to educate myself on the Health At Every Size research and even suggest that we read the book in class, which we did! We had the choice between Intuitive Eating and HAES in one class which of course, was my favorite class. That was eating behaviors. I had a blast in that one!
The year ended with a week straight of 20 page paper deadlines and presentations on said papers. By this point we had finished all course work and were prepared to be dietetic interns! Since our program was coordinated, CSULA helped us set up internship sites that we already had contracts with. If your program isn’t coordinated, you may have to go through DICAS. I didn’t know where I was placed till a few weeks before August 2018.
We were all placed at different rotations sites around LA and I think I can speak for my friends in saying this was the most exhausting year of “school”, hands down. We worked more than 40 hours a week, did not get paid, and had to study and work in our down time. This leads to most people becoming RDs being very privileged or in debt. I feel really lucky that I was living at home and had the support of my parents so I didn’t have to pull out loans for rent, groceries, and gas to schlep hundreds of miles around LA. This was a huge reason I chose to apply to CSULA so I could be at home. Many of my friends had to pull loans out or were living with a significant other that was picking up the slack for the year(s). I’m just thinking of a student who moves across the country after getting into a dietetic internship or masters program and has to spend thousands of dollars to just exist and then will spend the first couple of years paying that money back with an already not so awesome average salary as an RD. OOFH. I’m telling you, this profession is wonderful but we have issues. None of us are in it for the money though, I’ll tell ya that.
Anyways, I have separate blog posts on all of my rotations but in a nutshell…
August-October 2018 Glendale Unified School District - Food Service/Admin
October-January 2019 Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center - Clinical Inpatient Nutrition (with 1 week of outpatient clinical shadowing)
January 2019-March 2019 California State University Los Angeles Student Health Center- Outpatient nutrition counseling
April 2019- Breathe Life Healing Centers- Eating Disorder and Substance Abuse Recovery - Elective (favorite!!)
The things I learned most from rotation year were the following. I wrote this in an instagram post too.
1. I can be a leader even when I’m not in charge. Interns have a lot to teach. I worked by booty off throughout grad school to be educated on HAES and to learn what running a practice might actually look like. I was an intern for Robyn for about a year and a half, I read LOTS (I’ll get that list up soon), and learned from teaching my thesis classes at the Y. I knew I didn’t know it all but I had things to share. Near the end of my intern career, little intern Connie worked up the courage to give a presentation on weight sigma and compassionate care to the experienced clinicians of the Student Health Center. I also wanted to co-lead a therapy group at Breathe and even taught one of the clinicians something I learned from Kylie Mitchell that went over really well! I promise you- you are valuable, you can lead, you don’t have to be in charge!
2. I learned I’m not expected to know everything but I’m expected to do my best to get my own answer first. Interns, try not to ask the same question twice. Write stuff down and review it. I had several google docs I could access from my phone to write down answers that scared me to ask and I didnt want to have to ask again. I’m talking things like stuff we learned in MNT that I probably should have remembered but didn’t. Just do your best to look it up and try to take a stab at it before you interrupt another RD charting on an ICU patient.
3. It’s ok to use the phrase “I guess I just have learned that yet”. I can’t tell you HOW MANY THINGS WE ARE NOT TAUGHT IN SCHOOL. Listen, learn, store it in your brain (or on google docs). You will walk into scenarios where you will have no clue what to do. Like, when a patient doesnt know he is NPO (nothing by mouth) and you happen to be the first person who tells him and he starts screaming at you from his hospital bed and making a scene- because, well he’s super hungry. How was I supposed to react?! I did my best, but then went down and asked how to properly handle that situation in the future.
4. I learned that I’ll fail but I often learn the most from those situations even if it doesn’t feel nice to fail. I know I’m human and even if I worked really really hard on something it still might not be right or I may not have as much clinical judgement as I thought I did- so you stay late and fix it.
5. I learned that I don’t grow when I’m doing things safe to me. This applies to life in general. My Denver move? NOT SAFE (physically yes, but emotionally I’m scared) but will I learn? 100%
6. I learned that just when you think you know everything you know nothing. Always keep learning- never assume you are done.
7. I learned I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Comparing yourself gets you no where. You in this moment are right where you need to be. You will figure it out! Promise :)
As you read this, I’ve graduated with my Masters degree and I’m studying for my RD exam and PRAYING I pass. Cross your fingers! Feel free to leave questions below and stay turned for other posts.