Dietitian Nicole Morrissey gets JobShadowed about her career.  You can find her at www.MidOhioNutrition.com and www.preventionrd.com.  You can also follow her on her Twitter feed found in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?

I’m a Registered Dietitian and college nutrition instructor.

How would you describe what you do?

By day, I am a renal dietitian working in several dialysis units with end-stage renal disease patients. I am responsible for monitoring their nutrition-related labs (namely, albumin, phosphorus, potassium, PTH, and calcium). I work closely with a care team that consists of a physician, nurses, and social worker. I help my patients, many of which are malnourished and with poor appetite, improve outcomes through proper nutrition. I am also a college nutrition instructor at a local community college. I teach the general nutrition class as well as Medical Nutrition Therapy, Nutrition Care Process, and the practicum courses for the Diet Tech students. I also own and operate a healthy eating blog which is updated daily with new recipes and inspiration to lead a healthy life. I dabble in private practice some, but it is yet to take off.

What does your work entail?

I do mostly medical nutrition therapy – teaching about nutrition for specific disease states. Most of my patients have diabetes, kidney disease/failure, hypertension, anemia, and much, much more. I make dosing change recommendations and use lab work to make dietary recommendations to my patients. I perform assessments when patients are initially admitted for treatment, then again after 90 days, and then every 6 months. For teaching, I prepare lesson plans, quizzes, exams, assignments, and labs and lead lectures. I give one-on-one experience to students pursuing a degree as a DTR (Diet Technician Registered). As for blogging, I make recipes healthier, perform nutrition analysis, photograph them, tell stories about food, and post them live on my blog each day.

What’s a typical work week like?  

I work a typical 8-4:30 daytime schedule most days and teach several evenings a week. My schedule is always changing because of my clinical job being very flexible. I am able to make my clinic job flex around my class schedule which changes every 10 weeks.

How did you get started?

I applied and interviewed a lot. I reached out to other dietitians in the field to learn as much as I could.

What do you like about what you do?

I love helping others and working in medicine. I love teaching others about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

What do you dislike?

I wish more people had access to dietitians. Unfortunately, people who have nutrition services paid for are far and few between. Most health insurance plans do not cover nutrition counseling. Medicare reimburses for medical nutrition therapy ONLY with physician order – it’s hard to get that referral and billing process efficient enough to make a private practice successful. It’s very frustrating.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I am salaried in my clinical position and paid by the credit hour in my teaching position. My blog is paid by the number of visits it receives online.

How much money do Dietitians make? 

Most dietitians start between $40,000 and $50,000 a year and earn more in certain geographic areas and with more experience. Higher degrees (master’s, PhD) and specialties (CDE, etc.) earn higher salaries.

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Dietitian?

I started in the mid $40k range and have continued to make more each year.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

To become a Registered Dietitian one must complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college (either a Coordinated Program in Dietetics or Didactic Program in Dietetics) and course work accredited or approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Next, one must complete a CADE-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a food service corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length, and this is the Dietetic Internship. Note: There are many program that offer combined master’s and internship opportunities. After the successful completion of an internship, you must pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), commonly referred to as the “RD exam”. After becoming a Registered Dietitian, one must uphold registration and state licensure (in most states), and complete 75 continuing education units (CEU’s) every 5 years. An RD can be audited for the successful completion of their CEU’s and professional portfolio.

What is most challenging about what you do?

It’s hard to try to help people who don’t always want to change.

What is most rewarding?

I love helping people understand their medical status and what they can do through diet and exercise to improve their health status and following them through the process. It’s very rewarding to see people improve their health and to know that you played a helping hand.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be sure you’re interested in medicine. Most dietitians work in a clinical setting at some point in their careers and much of the demand for RDs is in the clinical sector. Most importantly, if you love nutrition…go for it!

How much time off do you get/take?

Quite a bit. I get 5 weeks of paid time off (PTO) that includes holidays and sick time.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

People think that dietitians help people lose weight. While that’s true, dietitians do so, so much more. Weight loss is actually a very small portion of what I do. I work more with disease management.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I would love to run an out-patient diabetes clinic that helped people prevent complications of uncontrolled diabetes.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I love dietetics because you can go into so many different arenas – health care, fitness, culinary, academia, management, private practice, etc. The options are limitless!