The Advice I’d Give Myself as a Young Dietitian
By Fritha Dinwiddie, MS, RDN, CSG, LDN
Full disclosure: I’m no spring chicken. DRGs (precursor of ICD codes) were implemented right after I started work, and HIV was known as HTLV3. The topic of dietitian reimbursement was just being batted about. Licensure was unheard of. The profession has changed enormously over these 30+ years. Dietitians now have lateral and vertical job opportunities that for so long were just hopes and dreams. I’m privileged to have worked with RDs in my age cohort who helped fuel the engine that propelled us forward. This would be my advice to my younger self—take off the blinders, think about horizontal career development, get to know people in every part of the organization. Consider everyone you meet to be a lifelong resource. Treasure every relationship, not because they will be useful but because they will inspire you.
I don’t know why, but as I was finishing my AP4 (ADA’s graduate plan for an MS back in the 1980’s) at Louisiana Tech, something drew me to Memphis. A couple of jobs in entry level management were offered to me in Oklahoma and Mississippi, but the one I accepted was a clinical position at “The Baptist.” At the time, it was the largest private nonprofit hospital in the country, with 2,200 beds. It swapped that rank with “The Methodist” from time to time.
It was, without question, the best starter job I could have chosen, and here’s why:
My unit was a general med/surg floor that served un- and underinsured patients from five States in the Mississippi Valley. They were poor, ravaged by disability, chronic disease or severe trauma. In all the years since, I’ve never seen a disease state that I didn’t see at least once at The Baptist. And in the days before Risk Management, I even was able to attend surgeries. The docs on my floor were UT residents who ordered any lab or procedure I asked for.
Having previously spent a year as a teacher in West Africa, I already knew a lot about food insecurity. In Memphis, I became local coordinator for the Citizens’ lobby, Bread for the World, which supports legislation that improves access to food for people all over the world. I was lucky to have a department director who was always willing to try anything new, and The Baptist, assisted by cab drivers all over the City, hosted a Christmas Day dinner for homeless men and women. All our managers were on hand (few of our RDs, sadly), and I heard later that the event continued for several years after I moved on.
“Adventure” is the word that best describes my first job, professionally and personally. I hope the same for you.
One thing I hear repeatedly from managers is that their RDs don’t like to venture into the production area. Over the years managers have said, “You are the first RD who has ever offered to help out.” Every morning when I get to work I walk through the kitchen to say hello. Remember, we are all on the same team, and the respect you earn from stepping outside the clinical bubble will resound through your career.
Fritha Dinwiddie, MS, RDN, CSG, LDN has been a contract travel dietitian with Dietitians on Demand since 2010. Her home base is Stone Mountain, GA.