Kathy Birkett, RDN, LD
NUTRITION FOR THE HEALTH OF IT
for something nutrishus
Kathy found her way to a rewarding, but very challenging position. This series aims to show all the different areas dietitians work in and hers is very unique in that comfort and quality of life are key nutrition considerations.
Why did you become a RD?
I became a dietitian because as a young child I would visit with my grandmother who volunteered at a nursing home. She showed such love working with others and that imprinted on me the desire to help too. Being a dietitian came naturally for me because as a picky eater myself, I could help others (especially those aging) eat better.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
I have worked in almost every field of dietetics in my career but my passion is working with aging adults. I have spent more than half my career specializing in long term care and now hospice/palliative care.
How would you explain what you do?
I help people who are facing the end of their life to use the art of nutrition to be more comfortable. I work not only with adults of all ages but also fragile children in our pediatric hospice program Hands of Hope.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
In my role I educate family caregivers, staff members and the community on how we can use nutrition to make people comfortable as they face the end of their life. I enjoy spreading this message as so few realize how important a dietitian is to the hospice team.
I attend interdisciplinary meetings where we consult about the care plan of our patients and get to add my expertise to their treatment plan.
What has been your career path?
After graduating from the Coordinated Undergraduate Program at Florida International University, I began doing clinical nutrition in a hospital setting as most dietitians at the time did. While I enjoyed the clinical setting, I branched out into cardiac rehab and home health care working a bit with a dietitian in private practice. After my family came along, I began working more with adults in long term care where I truly found my calling. Since then I have spent the majority of my career in long term care and hospice care.
I have also been busy with the development of my own website, Nutrition for the Health of It, where I love sharing nutrition information for families and seniors. Because I enjoy preparing my own food (I am still a picky eater), I create Recipe RenovationsTM making our favorite recipes healthy and delicious. I was thrilled to put some of my favorites into my first cookbook Recipe RenovationTM For The Health of It.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
I have found it important throughout my career to always look for new opportunities to spread nutrition messages and learn new skills.
I have a certificate in Gerontology and am ServSave certified both of which have helped me in the long term care setting.
I edited both the 2008 and 2013 editions of the South Carolina Diet Manual for Long Term Care Facilities.
Everything a dietitian does leads to new discoveries and opportunities!
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
I believe an ideal world for dietitians includes even more opportunities for us to expand in business and healthcare. We are poised as the nutrition expert and need to find ways to let the public know how valuable we can be in helping them achieve optimal health.
I appreciated the opportunity I had to practice in a clinical setting as I learned so that I was ready to work as an RD after graduation unlike current students who have to work hard to seek internships. Hopefully we will find a way to produce the most skilled dietitians in a more efficient manner than we are now.
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
Dietitians have a vast amount of knowledge and many don’t know exactly what we can do especially employers. Many people also think that we make large amounts of money which, as most RDs know, is far from reality. And by the way, dietitians aren’t cooking the food served in healthcare facilities.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
Working in long term care my biggest challenge was the fact that there is no regulation that states an RD needs to be a part of the full time care team. RDs are generally only mandated to be in a facility for about 8 hours a month. This is a major oversight because an RD can make such a big impact on the health and wellness of our older adults living in facilities. Each senior deserves our attention not just the most fragile at risk seniors.
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
I am passionate about making a difference not only at the end of life but also for people struggling to be healthy with sound nutrition principles and food that tastes good!
What makes RDs unique/different from other nutrition/wellness professionals?
RDs are experts in nutrition. We are armed with the knowledge to help people be healthy and manage chronic diseases. We are often undervalued in healthcare and overlooked by the public in favor of ‘nutritionists’ and food bloggers with a sensational testimonial with little science to back up the claims.
What is your favorite meal?
I enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden, fresh fruit in season and pasta in any form. I have a very low sodium meal intake naturally and even as a dietitian, have to work to drink enough water each day.
Anything else you’d like to add that you feel would be valuable:
I want to encourage friends and family to learn more about the value of end of life care – hospice and palliative care. Ask that a dietitian be a part of your care team!
More about Kathy:
Website: Nutrition For The Health Of It
Facebook: Nutrition For The Health Of It
LinkedIn: Kathy Birkett
Pinterest: Kathy Birkett RDN
Cookbook: Recipe RenovationTM For The Health of It