Paula Wesson, RDN, LDN
GERIATRICS - CATHOLIC SISTERS &
THE JUNK FOOD NUTRITIONIST
for something nutrishus
It fascinates me to learn why people were drawn to the dietetics field and of course the diverse and varied things we do and people we work with. We often go above and beyond nourishment and nutrition education to best serve our patients/residents/clients. Paula also bring up some of my favourite terms: moderation (although a controversial/subjective term) and prevention.
Why did you become a RD?
I’ve always loved food, but I also really liked medicine and I loved playing “school” with my friends. I realized that being a dietitian was a combination of these things. I’m around food all the time, I’m around medicine all the time, and I teach!
What area of dietetics do you work in?
Geriatrics. I work mainly with Catholic Sisters. (They prefer not to be called “nuns.”)
How would you explain what you do?
I’m a jill-of-all-trades. I do anything I can for the Sisters, including many things that aren’t nutrition-related, such as pushing their wheelchairs and helping them find the numbers called in Bingo.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
One of my main clinical duties is to perform a full nutrition assessment on new residents to the skilled nursing floors (there are also floors for Sisters who are aging but don’t need skilled care). I then have to fill out Medicare paperwork for residents on a regular basis, regardless of their nutrition status. I also attend care conferences twice a week to discuss the residents’ health conditions and care. Sometimes I provide nutrition education. Sometimes I recommend supplements or snacks. Sometimes I even spoon-feed them or go to the grocery store to look for a particular item for them to eat.
What has been your career path?
After college, I held nutrition-related jobs prior to working as a dietitian. After earning my degree, I worked as a summer camp counselor teaching cooking classes. While this was enjoyable, it was obviously temporary. Then, I started my unpaid dietetic internship, during which I worked part-time as a biology lab assistant and later as a dietary aide in a convent nursing home.
Another convent nursing home, operated by the same foodservice company, needed a new dietitian. I had a job offer to be their dietitian before I’d even completed the internship. Literally, the day after I finished my internship, I moved and 3 days later I started working as their dietitian.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
Not much. I have taken 4 graduate-level courses. I am planning to take the Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) exam by the end of the year, which is a certification in tube feedings and parenteral nutrition.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
Nutrition services are still inaccessible for many people. Ideally, more insurance companies would cover our services and would cover them for more conditions than they currently do. I’d like to see one dietitian visit a year being a covered part of preventative care. Teaching people nutrition earlier in the disease process or before it even begins could help prevent complications.
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
People often think my job is to make strict meal plans. My facility has “liberal” diets. For example, we don’t force residents with diabetes to eat only 45 carbs per meal. Even when I was interning in inpatient and outpatient settings none of the dietitians provided patients or clients with a strict meal plan.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
It’s hard to change people’s habits. I think this is especially true in the older adult population because they want to enjoy what’s left of their life and are concerned they won’t enjoy it as much if they change their diet.
What do people think that you do for a living?
Ha. I had one coworker who used to tell me all the time that my job was to play Solitaire because he often saw me on the computer. Other people tell me they think I’m the stock person or the “runner” who brings food from the kitchen to the serving area.
What is your favourite meal?
I have always loved rice and beans. It’s very versatile, because it’s not really just rice and beans. For example, Puerto Rican-style rice and beans includes recaito, a cilantro-based mixture, but Nicaraguan “gallo pinto” rice and beans doesn’t.
Anything else you’d like to add that you feel would be valuable:
Why do you call yourself “The Junk Food Nutritionist”? I came up with this name years before I officially became a Registered Dietitian. My family would tease me about the fact that I ate junk food even though I was studying nutrition and wanted to work in dietetics. I still do. I believe in everything in moderation.
More about Paula: