What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree? Here’s My Story

The field of nutrition and dietetics has always been broad… you can go into freshman year thinking you want to write tube feeds in the NICU, and leave senior year thinking you’ll manage the food service department in the university setting… and then complete your internship thinking you’ll do something else… and finally land your first job working on nutrition policy on the Hill, (my career aspirations took a similarly meandering route).

My career path is still evolving – but as I look back over the past 12 years I’ve spent as a dietitian, I thought it would be fun to share my journey.

Why I Became a Dietitian

I chose to go into nutrition because I always had a love for science, and originally thought I wanted to go into medicine. First semester freshman year, however, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to spend many years in school – and ended up taking a nutrition class around the same time. With nutrition, I found I could still help people with their health, and begin practicing soon after graduation (much more quickly than the med school route).

The coursework was still challenging – organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and medical nutrition therapy were all very tough classes that nearly took me out! I persevered, and in 2007 I received my nutrition degree from the University of Delaware. I went on to my dietetic internship at Keene State in New Hampshire, and during that time I explored the many practice areas dietitians operate in – clinical, community, and foodservice being the big ones. I also began learning about nutrition policy and school nutrition, which really caught my attention. I viewed policymaking as a way to make broad changes that could impact the health of entire populations, and learned about the strong connection between policy and child nutrition.

School meal programs are governed by federal regulations from USDA, as well as state and local legislation and policies. I was excited by the prospect of being able to help children be healthier, and also support the broader school community – families, teachers, and foodservice workers too. My first job out of my internship was as Resident Dietitian in DC Public Schools, working for a contract foodservice management company, Chartwells.

Over the course of my three years working in DC Public Schools, I wrote menus, managed food allergies, was involved in procurement, trained hundreds of foodservice workers, provided nutrition education, and collaborated with the community and local farmers to support new programs like after school cooking classes and farm to school. Working with the foodservice department, we introduced salad bars in many schools, started new federal programs, and promoted our program to reach the roughly 40,000 students enrolled in our 100+ schools.

Here I was on a farm field trip with our DC Farm to School Network Folks! Photo Credit: Arcadia Center for Food Sustainable Food and Agriculture

Moving Onwards and Upwards

I learned a lot during my time working in a school district, and my best advice to any dietitian starting out in a new field is to get that firsthand knowledge – be “boots on the ground” so to speak – to truly understand the intricacies of the field. I was able to take that experience with me to my next position with Chartwells – as Director of Wellness Initiatives. In that role I was responsible for supporting the school foodservice component of our distance dietetic internship program (in partnership with Morrison, the clinical arm of Chartwells’ parent company, Compass Group), developing and rolling out our quality-assurance-approved school garden program to our 600+ districts nationally, and launching other initiatives for the nutrition department. Around that time I also began working on my Master of Public Health at George Washington University – so I had a lot on my plate!

About a year and a half later, an opportunity to move into a new role with broader responsibilities became available – and I jumped at the chance. I became Director of Nutrition and Wellness, had direct reports, and began overseeing our menu planning software, amongst other things.

So Began My Love Affair with Technology and Design

As I worked with our developers on our software, I realized I loved the process of understanding our users and creating features that met their needs. It was fun to translate our business needs into technical software requirements. I began leveraging programs like Adobe Captivate to create online trainings for our users – eventually replacing day-long training sessions with 100% remote training (yay efficiency!).

I also began using graphic design programs to design our nutrition materials, and eventually began recording and editing nutrition education videos from my kitchen. I loved using various programs and technologies to extend our reach in schools. While Chartwells employed an impressive team of dozens of dietitians, we still couldn’t be everywhere – so ensuring our various communication materials were impactful and effective was extremely important.

A day in the life of a Chartwells dietitian – NOT! We were touring a production facility, hence the garb – but most Chartwells RDs spent their time in offices and schools – not in hairnets and lab coats 😁

The Entrepreneurial Bug Bit

After nearly 4 years in that role, I began thinking “What’s next?” Out of almost nowhere, I decided I wanted to go into business for myself. I had been reading the book “Do What You Are,” and identified that the times when I’m most excited and “lit up” were when I was working on these design and communication projects. I had seen how important it was to effectively communicate as a dietitian with modern tools, but the services available to help dietitians with this were limited. I decided my business would enable other dietitians and nutrition-focused companies to better connect with their customers through well-designed and executed marketing and communication materials. Whitney Bateson Digital Strategy was officially launched in January 2018, and my last day at Chartwells was April 27, 2018.

Then The Travel Bug Bit

In April 2018 I also took a trip to Bali, and it was truly life-changing. I realized how amazing I felt, and how much more creative and inspired I was, when I was in an unfamiliar environment. For 7 years I had been working remotely from my condo in DC, and I had a sense that if I really wanted my business to grow and expand, I needed to get out of my comfort zone and connect with other entrepreneurs and creatives. Shortly after returning from Bali, I learned about Remote Year – a travel company and community geared towards digital nomads. For one year, you travel with a group of 30-50 other nomads, visiting a new country every month. I was in.

My travel family (each group gets a name – ours was “Curie”) – This was the very first time we met!

My experience on Remote Year is a blog post for another day, but by the end of my trip (which kicked off September 30, 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal and concluded in Mexico City in October 2019), I had decided I was ready for more international adventures and made the decision to continue traveling. So, it’s safe to say I enjoyed myself 😁

Where My Business (and I) Are Today

As of the writing of this post, I’m continuing to travel the world as a digital nomad with my boyfriend, a fellow entrepreneur and Remote Year Citizen (as we’re called once we complete our travel program). We recently finished 3 months in Cape Town, South Africa, and are spending the next few weeks in Mauritius, a small island country in the Indian Ocean.

For me, Remote Year was the best possible decision for me and my business. I grew my professional network exponentially, overcame new challenges and took on exciting (but also intimidating) opportunities with the support of my travel group. The Whitney Bateson Digital Strategy team grew from just me, to a team of 3 additional members, plus a broad network of contractors who support the various projects we take on. When I launched my business in 2018 I also decided to hire a business coach, who I continued to work with throughout my trip, and I credit her for much of my success as well, in terms of pursuing the growth of my business with intention and confidence.

The Whitney Bateson Digital Strategy Team (From Left: Nikki [American], Ron [Australian], Whitney [American], and Zoe [Canadian])

So far, we’ve launched over 20 website design projects and consulted for numerous businesses and dietitian entrepreneurs to help them better connect with their customers. I feel good about the work I’m doing, knowing I’m staying true to the reason I began a career in nutrition over a decade ago – to help people live healthier, happier lives. While I may not directly counsel or practice dietetics in my day-to-day, I’m enabling others to do so, and that makes me feel good.

My Advice

So what’s the takeaway from my story, and what advice can I offer to other future or current dietitians?

  • Figure out your “why” and go for it. This takes time, and it can evolve over time as well. Take note of what gets you really excited, and find ways to do more of it.
  • Be open to new paths. Begin your dietetics career wherever it makes sense for you, but be open to new areas within the field if your skills and interests change.
  • Always be learning, and it doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. Many dietitians wonder if they should get additional certifications or degrees, and my answer is: it depends. First identify where you’re trying to go and start learning at a small scale – take short online courses and try different things out to see if formal schooling is necessary.
  • Build a strong network and rely on it. As I mentioned, my Remote Year community was supportive personally and professionally, as was my business coach, and the many nutrition professionals I’ve met over the years. No matter where your career takes you, you’re not alone. Reach out to people and rely on them for advice and support.
  • Be your own cheerleader. Much of my success early in my career was due to this. While we may assume people know how great we are, truth is, they may not. Share new ideas with your superiors and highlight projects you’re proud of. If you’re looking for a promotion, don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder – start “acting as if” right now, and make sure people know you’re ready for more responsibility.

Whether you’re deciding if a nutrition degree is right for you, or about to embark on your career in dietetics, or are looking for inspiration on where to go next in your current career as a dietitian, I hope my story has given you some ideas. But my story is just one path – I also encourage you to check out my blog post where I highlight 11 other dietitians who inspire me for the diverse career paths they took.

I’d love to know what you’ve done/are planning to do with your nutrition degree – let me know in the comments!

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