Today marks FIVE years since I became a registered dietitian. I remember going into the test center to take the RD exam on August 4, 2014 and feeling nervous, excited, ecstatic, that I was FINALLY going to become what I had studied and worked so hard for.
When I was finished taking the exam, I was truly, TRULY convinced I had failed. The test center employee printed my results and I refused to look at them. I turned the paper upside down and walked to my locker (you have to put all of your belongings in a locker before taking a test like that). Before I walked out the door, I looked at the results and saw that I PASSED! I immediately called my husband (boyfriend at the time), mom, and internship director to share the news and just sat in my car in the parking lot for like an hour…it sounds silly, but it felt so surreal that I was FINALLY a registered dietitian.
Looking back, 5 years doesn’t seem like all that long ago. But so much has happened within those 5 years and I thought it would be fun to share with aspiring RDs, dietetic interns, current RDs and whoever else wants to know what my RD journey has looked like so far. It’s always interesting to hear about the career path of other RDs and to know that you are NOT ALONE if you’re struggling to figure out what the heck you want to do with your RD credential. I feel like my path has been pretty non-traditional and goes along with my “don’t put yourself in a box!” advice that I always give to my interns. I love sharing it with people so they can see that they don’t have to follow the cut & dry plan that’s often laid out for us in our schooling (like the typical ‘you have to work in clinical for at least a year if you want to get anywhere as a RD’ advice).
Here we go…
I went to UW-Stout for my undergrad in nutrition & dietetics. I started my first semester as a psychology major and figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me. I switched to dietetics halfway through my freshman year and the rest was history! I didn’t 100% know what I was getting myself into when I switched to dietetics. I had always thought the topic of food & nutrition was interesting after I had to see a dietitian as a kid, but I had no idea how challenging the major actually was and how many extra steps you had to take after getting your degree to obtain the RD credential. Regardless, I’m so happy that I chose nutrition & dietetics as my major because I’ve found something that I’m incredibly passionate about to base my career on.
I got my Master’s in Nutrition & Dietetics a little later in my path. I received half the credits I needed for a master’s during my internship which I talk about a bit below. I ended up finishing it online during my second year while working my current job. I was able to emphasize my master’s on professional writing which was awesome! For my thesis, I conducted an Evidence Analysis Library (EAL) project on home delivered meal programs, which made sense because it tied into what I was doing for work.
I went through the DICAS matching process and was placed with my second choice: Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, WI. My internship was 9 months long and had an emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. This meant that in addition to the core clinical, community, and foodservice rotations, we also did extra projects within the community such as recipe demonstrations at food pantries and teaching nutrition/exercise classes for older adults at an assisted living facility. The Mount Mary internship was combined with a master’s program, so we would go to our rotations during the day and had class a couple times a week, in addition to some online courses. I ended my time there with 18 credits towards my master’s degree. The internship was a whirlwind and I remember being exhausted for the entire 9 months from information overload….but I got through it!
My First 5 Years as a RD
Where do I start?!
I started applying to jobs immediately at the end of my dietetic internship because I needed to have something to pay the bills as I jumped into the world of “adulting.” I applied to anything & everything that was related to nutrition, health, wellness, and the like. Since I wasn’t a RD yet, I was cautious to apply to RD-specific jobs but I did still send my resume to a few. I ended up getting a job as a Health Advisor/Health Coach at HealthFitness, a corporate wellness company in the Twin Cities. I started working there immediately in June after I got back from Milwaukee. This job gave me some really good people skills, experience with navigating health & nutrition related conversations over the phone, and a dive into learning about health insurance plans. I discussed results of employee biometric screenings with participants and talked with them about how they could improve their results through their eating & exercise habits. And I had some really awesome co-workers and perks (we had a gym in our building that we could go to for free and I honestly had a lot of downtime so I could study for the RD exam while I was at work :P). I ended up passing the RD exam in August and worked at HealthFitness through November, which was when I landed my first RD position.
My first RD specific position was with a company called McKesson. McKesson is a huge pharmaceutical company and the sector I worked for was called McKesson MediMart. I was hired as a Clinical Support Specialist, and I’ll say that this job was very non-traditional in the RD job sense. As the Clinical Support Specialist, I was behind-the-scenes in helping to get patients qualified to have their tube feeding supplies covered by their Medicare benefits. I worked alongside a couple of other RDs and a speech therapist, and we had to review medical records and make a lot of phone calls out to healthcare providers to obtain medical justification for tube feedings. This job taught me even more people skills, gave me some experience with clinical nutrition (mostly related to tube feedings), and really helped me hone in on my critical thinking & ability to be detail-oriented. Towards the end of my time there, I was also dabbling in doing some employee wellness projects like putting together nutrition newsletters and lunch and learns. I worked for McKesson for a year & a half. In March of 2015, I was told I was getting laid off TWO DAYS before I was offered a job at my current position. The timing of this whole situation was unbelievable and looking back, I still can’t believe how well the stars aligned at this point. I was so desperate for a position that was more fulfilling and allowed me to have a greater impact on the community….which then brought me to: Open Arms of Minnesota!
I started working as the Nutrition Specialist/Program Dietitian at OAM in April of 2016. OAM is a nonprofit meal delivery program that provides medically tailored meals for people living with life-threatening illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, MS, ALS, ESRD, CHF, and COPD. My position there has evolved quite a bit, but to begin with I was responsible for working with our chefs to plan our menus and analyze recipes, provide nutrition counseling and education to our clients, precept dietetic interns, develop nutrition education materials, facilitate our summer meals program, and more. I was the only RD there for my first 2 years, so it was quite the challenge to navigate the position but I made it work. In 2018 we started to add more RDs to the team and we’ve slowly grown to a department of 3. My title there has changed a few times, from Nutrition Specialist to Nutrition Program Manager and I’m now the Senior Manager of Nutrition & Client Services. My job looks very different now than what it did previously and it’s hard to explain; basically, I oversee both departments and am involved in more “big picture” projects such as writing policies/procedures, reporting, and championing the success of our programs. A couple of highlights I’ve had in this role are the development of a nutrition counseling program, writing our Healthy Food Philosophy, and developing our first ever client advisory committee.
I will always look at Open Arms as the place where I “grew up” as a dietitian. I started there as a very young and new RD, and I can’t believe how much experience and confidence I’ve gained, and how much I’ve learned over the last 3 ½ years. I won’t sugarcoat the fact that working for a nonprofit is HARD – definitely not for the fainthearted – but every day I’m blown away by my compassionate and hardworking coworkers and the volunteers who make the magic happen. Being part of something as important as providing people with healthy, delicious, nourishing food while they’re going through a health crisis and many other hardships has been magical. That’s really the only way to describe it. Not only have I become a better dietitian by working at Open Arms, I’ve also become a better human.
A very recent addition to my RD journey is a position I started literally last week at another nonprofit called East Side Table as the Senior Program Coordinator. This is yet another amazing organization that helps make the preparation of meals at home easier for residents of East St Paul. They help empower individuals to improve food skills, awareness, and access to healthy foods. I’m working there part-time (in addition to working at OAM) and get to lead the programs they provide for seniors, from cooking classes to community meals. I’ve been in the position for a very short time and it’s already been so rewarding!
In the mix of all of this, I also started to dabble in starting my own business in 2015. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a creative brain which has led me to want to do my own thing. After a few years of trial & error, giving up and starting over…Bri Toby Nutrition Company was born in March of 2019! Through my business, I provide a variety of services but the one I enjoy most and can see myself focusing more on in the future is WRITING. You guys, I had no idea that I would ever be able to make a living off writing about nutrition but here I am doing it and it’s awesome. I’ll write a blog post later to talk about how I got started in the writing world because I know this is an area of interest for many RDs and RDs2Be!
I’m going to go ahead and stop here because I could continue to write about all the cool things that I’ve been able to do as a RD forever. I love this profession and feel lucky to be able to do what I’m passionate about day in & day out. Am I a workaholic sometimes, sure—but I love my work and I don’t think I’ll ever slow down with seeking more experiences that make me a better dietitian and allow me to make the world a better place. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years have in store 🙂
Be on the lookout for more career-related blog posts: I get asked these types of questions a lot and want to be able to have answers to them all in one place. LET ME KNOW if you have a specific question or topic you want to see my address in a future blog post!