Feeding Your Career in Dietetics: Strategies for Staying Engaged Long Term
By Laurel LeConte, RD
Unfortunately, I can no longer consider myself a dietitian-spring-chicken. I’ve come to the realization that I am approaching 16 years of practicing dietetics. In my personal circumstance, this unconventional career milestone means I am halfway to potential retirement. I am officially mid-career. Those years went by quickly and I consider myself fortunate to have experienced relatively high job satisfaction. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realize that job satisfaction in conventional dietetics roles, perhaps in all careers, isn’t as high as we might have hoped as eager new grads. I’m sharing 5 strategies I’ve employed for staying motivated and engaged to sustain a fulfilling career in dietetics long-term, based on my own personal experience working as a solo RD in small hospitals in northern Ontario
- Give yourself time to develop expertise and influence
I still remember the first time I attended hospital grand rounds on my first day of work as a new grad. The chief of medical staff asked me about my experience. I proudly proclaimed that I had just graduated from my dietetic internship. (Prone to overconfidence, I naively thought I knew everything.) My lack of experience translated to a perceived lack of credibility; my input and suggestions were generally dismissed which left me feeling deflated. It took years (plural) for me to develop expertise in my practice areas and earn the respect of my colleagues. Persevere with exerting your influence and sharing your knowledge. Ultimately you will be respected, appreciated, and consulted which is paramount to being satisfied with your role and contribution.
- Never stop learning
I’ve always found that other people’s excitement for their work is infectious. Hearing another dietitian (or student) talk about their work or interests has always energized me, professionally speaking. I recommend you take courses, read books, and attend conferences (even when virtual!) whenever the opportunity presents, even if the subject matter isn’t homogenous with your exact practice area. I admit that over the years there have been times where I’ve felt discouraged and have questioned my impact, role and even my commitment to the profession. However, each time I learn something new or connect with another dietitian who’s passionate about what they’re doing, I leave invigorated with pride and a renewed sense of determination to be the best I can be. Make time for learning from and connecting with other dietitians on a regular basis.
- Don’t hesitate to accept new challenges
Throughout my career as rural and remote hospital dietitian, I’ve had opportunities to expand my scope beyond the initial job description. For example, in absence of a staff SLP, I was asked to take on training to become a dysphagia practitioner. I remember consulting with both my regulatory body and other colleagues before accepting this new responsibility. Although my college and professional associations were in support, I had several colleagues discourage me from taking on more liability in absence of additional monetary compensation. I decided to accept the challenge. My employer ultimately supported me to travel to the UK where I was able to gain hands on training that I couldn’t find closer to home. I’ve always pushed the boundaries of my scope while still adhering to ethics and competency requirements to practice. Not only has this attitude led me to new opportunities for fulfilling work and secondary employment, it has also given me the challenges I needed to stay interested in dietetics. Don’t be afraid to try something new and don’t be afraid to advocate for change in your traditional role.
- Remember WHY you’re here.
Dietetics is a helping profession. You probably entered this field because you wanted to help people or foster positive changes in your area of interest. However, we soon learn that influencing change is very complex. Dietitians don’t yield magic wands. I’ve often felt inconsequential when nutrition seemed the least relevant concern in many different situations. However, over time I’ve come to realize and value the contributions I do make irrespective of how small they sometimes feel. With each passing year I’ve learned to listen more, speak less, and focus on the positive connections I do make. Having the privilege to remain working on site during the pandemic has made me profoundly appreciate even small contributions. I’ve never experienced patients so grateful to have a dietitian visit their hospital bed before. I may not be able to wave my wand and improve their life dramatically, but I am able to offer a sympathetic ear in the loneliest time of their life during a year of isolation and visitor restrictions.Don’t undervalue your contribution, no matter how small or insignificant it may sometimes seem.
- Don’t expect your work to be the sole source of your life’s fulfilment
Try to arrive at work refreshed and recharged. Finding passions outside of work will fuel the vitality you bring to your work. The pandemic has forced me outside for all my leisure time which has turned out to be an unexpected gift to my mental health. I’ve always found that quality of life and happiness outside of work, influence how I feel about my professional work. Always prioritize your own health and well-being so you can continue to take care of others and feel satisfied about the important work that you are doing.
Read Laurel's 2014 post on her experience as a small town dietitian
Laurel LeConte is a registered dietitian on Manitoulin Island. Laurel is always looking to connect with and learn from other dietitians. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by DM on Instagram @lecontelaurel.
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