Part 2 of Should you Kick Your Career Off Clinical Style?

Choosing an area of practice in dietetics after graduation is an exciting, but often conflicted time.  Thankfully dietitians have the option now of expanding their job prospects into areas of fitness, food service management, or grocery store based nutrition.  While these jobs may differ from a clinical setting, do new dietitians still need to start their career there?

Here’s part two of our two-part blog. (Click here to check out Part 1.)

For some, becoming a dietitian is a stepping stone to expanding an already existing career.  Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, entered the dietetics field after a successful start in journalism.  According to Amy, “Although many of my nutrition professors suggested starting my nutrition career with a clinical focus, I decided not to go this route full-time—and you don’t have to, either! You can have a very successful and meaningful career with an alternate path. In addition to working with clients, I decided to jump right into nutrition communications—writing for media outlets and helping reporters with their nutrition-focused articles, consulting with brands and commodity boards, and offering media coaching services to other dietitians.”

Jenna Gorham, RD, LN, owner of Jenna Gorham Nutrition Consulting feels that although the mentorship in a clinical setting was beneficial she knew that her strengths lay elsewhere.  Jenna explained, “I learned quite a bit in clinical, however I think you learn a lot in most entry level positions.  I now work in business and wellness and honestly don’t use my clinical skillset much at all. For me, the main benefit of my clinical position was being able to work with and learn from other, more experienced RDs and healthcare professionals.”

When Food is Your Focus

While retail dietitians often rely on a different skill set than a nutrition support clinician, Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, a retail health expert & consultant recommends direct exposure and experience working with real patients, despite the setting.  “Working in public or outpatient care is VERY important for dietitians pursuing a career in a supermarket. There is value in knowing how to design, plan and execute a population-based program and what it entails. It’s also important to know how to work with people — working in outpatient care or in private practice or even clinical nutrition, can help a dietitian sharpen counseling, communication and educational skills in order to be effective in working in a retail setting.”

“After completing my clinical supervised practice, I was not interested in working in the clinical setting – at all. My eyes were set on food service, and maybe eventually outpatient shared Caitlin Jindrich, RDN.  She added, “I believe that clinical is very beneficial for an RDN to experience, but only if you are ready for it or interested in it. I can’t tell you how many applicants we interviewed who stated they were only interested in the job because were told to get a clinical job after graduation.”

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

While it would be rare to hire a clinical nutrition manager without prior clinical nutrition experience, there are positions that knowing the ins and outs of exactly what clinical dietitians do may be invaluable.  One of these areas is nutrition informatics where dietitians are needed to successfully manage the information related to the field of dietetics.  Sue Evanchak, RD, LDN who now specializes in nutrition informatics services as the Nutrition Data Manager, for the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Shadyside pointed out, “The clinical nutrition setting offers other practice opportunities that may not be apparent to the new RDN, such as positions in quality improvement or with health plans, management opportunities in departments other than food and nutrition, opportunities in nutrition informatics via electronic health record and food service software systems selection and development, and enteral nutrition product sales, among others. While a start in clinical nutrition is desirable, the practitioner must actively seek involvement in initiatives in their areas of interest that will shape their future practice.”

Doctor In Consultation With Female Patient In Office

Dietitian In Consultation With Female Patient In Office

Obviously, it depends on many factors, including the level of competition for a position, but often it can be difficult for RDNs without recent clinical experience to enter hospital-based work.  Terese Scollard MBA, RDN, LD, FAND, Regional Clinical Nutrition Manager for Providence Health and Services in Portland Oregon has had a wealth of experience hiring job candidates.  Terese shared, “The pace and technology demands in acute care are such that we would not be able to hire someone in the hospital who worked in private practice a few years then wanted to go into acute care clinical. They would likely get eliminated from the candidate pool because they would require too much training.”

As an internship director, Hope Wills, MA, RD, CSP, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, often has this conversation with new grads. “In my mind, clinical nutrition is about how you provide care, not where you do it.   If you are seeing a patient with diabetes, in an outpatient clinic you are still using the same assessment process whether they are inpatient or outpatient.   When you are in public health- the assessment process remains the same-except you are using population-based data instead of individual data points.  Clinical practice is systematic, evidence based and responsive to the needs of the client- no matter where or who the client is.”

A great point though was brought up by Brianne Bell, RD a Canadian dietitian.  Who really gets to cherry pick their first job anyway?  “Most grads will take any job they can get.  Which is a bit sad because so many people who want clinical end up working in a different sector like community and so many people wanting community focused work, take clinical positions.”

There’s really no right or wrong choice when it comes to kicking off a great career as a registered dietitian nutritionist.  Although starting off in clinical nutrition is the most common road for most dietitians, expanding career paths will continue to allow divergent and successful opportunities for a greater number of clinicians.  While we can’t predict the future, we do know that you’ll dig down and use all that valuable Kreb’s Cycle knowledge to be the best dietitian you can be, no matter what the setting.