Hey guys! Hope you are having a great day.
I have received quite a few emails from students in RD programs, so I’m hoping to incorporate some RD-related posts here and there on G&G. A few weeks ago, I posted about leaving the field of child nutrition after 6 years to begin working as a clinical dietitian. Today, I wanted to touch on the differences between working in schools vs. a hospital. The two fields are so different!
**These ideas are strictly my own and in no way reflect my current or previous employers**
School: My primary job duties included menu planning, working with special diets, assisting with food product/delivery issues and staff training. This short list makes the job sound simple but really, I did a little bit of everything.
Clinical: Sometimes people assume that I am working in the food service department at the hospital. Some hospitals house their food service and clinical dietitian employees together, but others don’t. What I do at the hospital is assess patients to determine if they are at nutritional risk and then, if they are, determine the best course of nutritional treatment for them. This could be anything from ordering a supplement to recommending/assisting with nutrition support (tube feeding, TPN, etc.). I also educate patients being treated for a nutrition-related illness.
Schools: It’s hard to even describe my day as a school dietitian because I never knew what would come my way each morning. In an idea world, my day would go like this: check emails/voicemails, address anything pressing, visit schools at lunch to check food quality, and work on menus/projects/trainings in the afternoon. What usually happened, though, is that I assisted with emergencies in the morning and spent the afternoon catching up on what I could… and then finished whatever was left when I got home that evening. Emergencies could be anything from a milk truck running hot, a school realizing they don’t have something they need for lunch, an employee getting sick/injured, a food product issue, etc.
Clinical: Every morning, we make the patient list and then go to rounds. After that, we assess/visit/educate patients and then chart on them. A much more simple routine!
School: I was a 12-month employee, worked 8 hours each day and had weekends and holidays off. We had certain “black-out” days (not officially) where it was not a good idea to take time off- the first few weeks before and after the start of school, the end of school, the beginning of summer school, and right before holidays. Summer was also insanely busy getting ready for the upcoming school year. Please don’t ask a school dietitian why they have to work during the summer. You might just get the stank eye.
Clinical: My current schedule is 4 days per week and I will have to rotate weekends working and taking call beginning in a few weeks. Working weekends is not amazing, but I don’t really mind right now since I don’t have kids. I also like that I have a day off during the week to take care of things like errands and doctors appointments rather than having to use PTO for that kind of stuff.
Schools: I primarily wore business casual clothing unless I was out in the kitchens. It would kind of stink when I would have to unexpectedly run out to a school and did not have a change of clothes. Also, I couldn’t wear nail polish since it isn’t allowed in kitchens and I never knew when I would need to go out to a school.
Clinical: I wear scrubs and tennis shoes, which is pretty much the BEST THING EVER. I know some clinical dietitians wear business casual/professional, so I know I’m lucky here.
School: The most difficult part about being a school dietitian was making the menus. I tried to make everyone happy but it was hard when you had to consider so many factors: student preference, labor, product availability, cost, meal requirements, serving time, equipment needed, space on the serving line, etc etc. Sometimes I left work feeling like I would never get to a point where I was doing a ‘good job’ and that was frustrating.
Clinical: Right now I’m still just trying to learn so many new things, both with starting a new job and also changing fields. Luckily everyone at my new job has been great!
My Favorite Parts
School: It was very rewarding providing healthy meals to students who may not get the best nutrition outside of school. I saw lots of heartbreaking situations with students, and if providing a hot meal could make their day better, then I am happy I could be a part of that. I also absolutely loved being able to work with such a large staff… so many different personalities, so much fun
Clinical: I have always had a special interest in medicine so I feel naturally content being in this field. I find the human body fascinating, and it is even more interesting seeing the relationship between nutrition and health. I also enjoy talking to patients and helping them. It’s hard to put into words how rewarding it is when a patient tells you that you have really helped them. I also like that even though you are technically doing the exact same thing everyday, it’s not boring because there are always new patients.
My thoughts for future RDs
I get emails all the time asking about my thoughts about XYZ career and what recommendations I would give in order to get there. Obviously I only have experience in schools and now clinical, but here are some thoughts…
The school nutrition jobs I’ve had required creativity, flexibility, marketing and technology skills and a positive attitude. Making menus is not easy and someone is always going to be critical of one thing or another. I’ve known people who did their dietetic internships and loved everything about school food service, and others who absolutely hated it. It really depends on your strengths and weaknesses both personally and professionally.
A clinical dietitian is obviously going to be working in a medical setting with patients. This means you have to be comfortable being in an environment like a hospital. Math skills are needed to calculate nutrient needs and nutrition support, and a basic understanding and interest in the medical field is necessary was well. The day-to-day routine is pretty much going to be the same in clinical.
Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions pertaining to RD-topics! firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your day!