March is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month. This yearly campaign encourages people to recognize the significance of making informed food choices, promote good eating habits and develop good physical activity habits.
Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center’s 13 registered dietitian nutritionists provide reliable and helpful nutrition information to patients. We sat down with three of our registered dietitians Kristen Clay, Rachel Ignomirello and Kerri Shingleton to discuss nutrition.
What does a registered dietitian nutritionist do?
Rachel: Dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals licensed to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional problems. We have a variety of roles, but a lot of us land in clinical settings, which could include working with patients in hospitals, ambulatory or out-patient clinics and even more specialized. We are the experts in nutrition, and our schooling and internships prepared us for that. We perform evidence-based practice, which means our recommendations stem from science and research.
Kerri:All dietitians must get a four-year degree, complete a 1200-hour supervised internship, pass a rigorous registration exam, and maintain continuing education credits throughout their career.
Kristen: You can do all kinds of things as a dietitian, and people don’t know that we’re in all kinds of areas: food service, clinical, public health, corporate wellness, sports, etc We even have a Knoxville city councilwoman who’s a dietitian.
What do you do at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center?
Rachel: I educate and counsel outpatients on disease states such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and obesity. I also help with the bariatric program where I co-teach classes, lead support groups and prepare patients before, during and after weight loss surgery for their nutrition needs.
Kerri: I work mostly in long-term acute care. These are patients who have been in the ICU, and need a longer recovery time before they move on to the next level of care.
Kristen: I cover CVICU and step down, and our general surgery floor.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Rachel: I get to see the progression of my patients from when they came to me to when they leave. I like to see their journey to get them to be a healthier version of themselves.
Kerri: I love the process. You see the patient’s progression and hear from other members of the healthcare team that the nutrition is helping their recovery.
Kristen: I like seeing that light bulb moment when they’re in the hospital feeling scared, sick, frustrated and homesick and realizing they can get through this illness with nutrition and food.
What led you to choose your profession?
Rachel: I was really into science and cooking growing up. I also remember attending nutrition classes with my mom and helping read food labels. When I was in high school, I was obsessed with the Jonas Brothers, and the youngest of the band Nick Jonas has type 1 diabetes, and I thought maybe I’ll be in a profession that I can help someone like that. Now, I’m helping more patients with type 2 diabetes, but maybe one day Nick will find this article somewhere in the world and thank me for it.
Kerri: I had my own dietitian growing up because I have Crohn’s disease, and I had to be on tube- feeding and total parenteral nutrition (TPN; a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract). I had to work closely with my dietitian, so she inspired me to go into the field.
Kristen: I’ve always enjoyed eating well, but it didn’t really click for me until my mom was diagnosed with diabetes when I was a junior in my bachelor’s program. I had luckily just learned how diabetes and nutrition go together, so I was the one that sat down with her and taught her the diabetic diet. I wanted to continue to help other people, like my mom, through their nutrition struggles.
What would you say to someone who comes to see you and has never thought about their nutrition?
Kerri: I would determine barriers upfront because everyone has obstacles to lasting change. Identifying those right away helps the dietitian and patient work together to start with realistic short-term, patient-centered goals.
Kristen: We figure out where people are and meet them there. We’re not going to start spewing out things about increasing your grains to then find out that you’re gluten free, have Celiac disease or you’re allergic to wheat. We hear you out first and figure out where to go from there.
Rachel: I would want them to know that we are not the “food police.” Instead, we like to learn all about your nutrition and lifestyle so that we can help you set goals and prioritize your health.