March is National Nutrition Month and to commemorate this event we asked one of our dietitians to answer a few questions regarding her chosen profession and the work she does at Walden.

 What kind of training is required to be a dietitian and where did you receive your training?

 To become a registered dietician there are a few different routes you can take. A Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) provides coursework and will conclude with a graduate or undergraduate degree and then a dietetic internship must be taken after completion of degree requirements. Another route is a Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CP), which is what I did. CPs integrate the dietetic internship into undergraduate or graduate coursework. Internships typically consist of clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and food service components.

I attended Framingham State University (FSU) and completed my clinical internship at Metrowest Medical Center. After receiving my bachelor’s of science from FSU I passed the national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) to become a Registered Dietician.

What are the main job responsibilities of a dietitian…what do you do?

In an eating disorder setting the role of the dietitian can be quite different than it would be in a typical clinical setting. My main responsibilities with my current position are assessing patient’s nutritional needs, monitoring labs/vital signs/weight progress, creating meal plans/increasing meal plans, nutrition education, creating educational materials, communicating with outpatient providers, communicating and educating parents of adolescents in our program, running and creating groups for both patients and parents, and recipe analysis.

Why did you choose to become a dietitian or what path led you to the profession?

I always knew that I wanted to work in a helping field and have always been interested in science and nutrition so becoming a dietitian made sense to me.  In terms of working with eating disorder clients, growing up I had someone very close to me struggle with an eating disorder and I wished that there was something that I could do to help. This is what really inspired me to work with this population.

Describe the population you work with and the top three things you enjoy about working with these individuals?

I work with both adults and adolescents with eating disorders. What I enjoy most about working with this population is the change that you can see in your clients once they start getting consistent nutrition. It’s amazing how different it can feel working with a client when they first get to treatment and compare that to when they are ready to transition to the next level of care – it can be like night and day. I also enjoy the education piece. Our clients have such distorted thoughts about nutrition and I provide them with facts that they can use to help challenge their distortions around food and nutrition. Working with the adolescents in this program has also been an amazing experience because at this age we have the opportunity to eradicate the eating disorder and help these adolescents go on to live full and healthy lives.

What changes do you think the nutrition profession could benefit from?

I believe there needs to be more education for others about what a dietitian does, about what it takes to become a dietitian, and about the differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist. A dietitian, someone who has the RD credentials after his/her name, is a person who has completed the education I mentioned above, with specific science and nutrition courses, completed a certain number of supervised practice hours through their dietetic internship, and then passed the national credentialing exam. Most often, a nutritionist is someone with a nutrition background, but lacks the supervised practice hours/internship, did not pass the national exam, and thus does not have the RD credential.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a dietitian?

 Seeing my clients get better


About the author:

Jen Locke received her BS in Nutrition from Framingham State College’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at Metrowest Medical Center in 2008. After her internship, she worked at Metrowest Medical Center for five years as a clinical dietitian working in the ICU, rehab, telemetry, med-surg, and psychiatric units. Jen has been a dietitian at Walden Behavioral Care since May 2013. Initially, she worked weekends on the inpatient unit and began working full time in the residential and partial hospitalization programs in Waltham in July 2013 where she continues to work today. In her free time, Jen enjoys spending time at home with her boyfriend and her two cats.