Drew Hemler, MS, RD, CDN
NUTRITION BY DREW, FOOD PRODUCT CONSULTANT & COURSE INSTRUCTOR
for something nutrishus
When Drew came across the series he was immediately excited to share it with his students. I asked him to take part, and am lucky that I did, he's doing a variety of amazing things in two countries and provided thorough descriptions for us. His unique consulting business is timely as label changes are being made and it reminds us of all the areas dietitians are experts. He shares his knowledge, understands the art and science of nutrition and is passionate about his work, so I'm curious to see where he heads in the rest of his career. Drew reminds us to give back by teaching others and volunteering within the profession. I must say, I'm not sure how he does it all, and it seems his colleagues and friends agree!
***Disclosure: I am a registered dietitian only in the U.S. When referring to services in Canada, I provide these as a nutrition consultant, which does not include RD regulated services such as medical nutrition therapy. I am currently pursuing dietetic registration in Canada (as of 2018).
Why did you become a RD?
Ultimately, to assist people in finding their own path to a healthy lifestyle through food and nutrition. However, I’ve discovered – as I gain experience being an RD – limitless opportunities exist to do so, and those opportunities may not necessarily be what you initially intended, but they surely bring gratitude and fulfillment, just in a different form.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
I work in multiple areas of practice, which is why I love this wonderful profession. I currently work in private practice (telehealth, community nutrition, and food product consulting), academia (higher education), and communications & events management (U.S. state-level A.N.D. affiliate).
How would you explain what you do?
How? During a coffee/tea date because it takes a while to explain all that I do. 😊
I’ll explain based on the area of practice I “work” in.
1. Mainly, I provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT) services through nutrition education and counseling to those living with nutrition-related conditions including endocrine, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases. I also provide sports performance, vegetarianism, and disease prevention nutrition education. This component of my private practice runs 90% via telehealth (webcam, phone, e-mail, text) and 10% face-to-face, depending on the demand and needs of my clients.
2. I also provide food product consulting services to various small food product companies throughout the Northeast U.S. and parts of Ontario, Canada. This entails anything from recipe analysis, nutrition facts label/table construction, food package regulated mandate assistance to label claims (nutrient content, health, structure/function) and various certification assistance, and food product development and modification. This includes companies who create and sell novelty food products such as condiments, snacks, sauces, desserts, vegetarian products, and meal solutions; ranging from shelf stable to frozen food items.
3. Lastly and what I truly enjoy most, I periodically provide nutrition and culinary workshops for various organizations (and sometimes individuals and families) throughout Western New York and Toronto, Ontario. To provide a past example, while I lived in Buffalo, NY, I used to provide a Heart Health and Diabetes class for a NY-based grocery store, providing nutrition, food safety, and culinary skill education to bi-monthly class attendees. Most recently, I’ve been providing food workshops for a non-profit organization in Toronto, educating program instructors on how to feed their attendees with quick, cost-effective, nutritious snacks and meals.
1. As a university course instructor, I create, implement, facilitate, and manage online courses based on that university’s needs, taking into consideration institution, program, and course learning objectives, as well as the learning audience and learning format/context. This entails facilitating peer discussions, managing student group work, grading, designing and curating instructional materials, and programing the learning management system which is the platform for the online course.
2. As an online teacher, I also assist and educate other instructors who are transitioning their courses to hybrid or online formats. This entails e-mail, webcam, and phone communications. (There are several implications with not only hosting an online course but also transitioning a traditional, face-to-face course to an online environment! I feel it somewhat of a duty to assist others since I’ve studied online education as part of my graduate program and have had great success running my courses.)
Communications and Events Management
1. Currently, as Communications Editor for a U.S. state-level affiliate (NYSAND), I assist in the daily, monthly, and annual communications within the organization. I edit interpersonal and public relations related documents. I develop a monthly newsletter that helps inform the organization’s members about various news and updates including health care and public policy, Academy and Affiliate happenings, affiliate member/student spotlights, and continuing education.
2. I am also currently chairing the state affiliate’s annual event which brings together nutrition professionals across the state of New York for purposes of networking, continuing education, and celebration. This involves managing ateam of Chairs and working with the affiliate President and Executive Director to develop a 2-day event. From hospitality, special events, poster sessions, and marketing to sponsorship and exhibitors, speakers, and general event logistics, this position involves creativity, management, and leadership. (I should note that these two positions listed within Communications and Events Management are both volunteer positions, although I treat them as professional appointments because they are just that. Meaning they require time commitment, multiple skills sets, and are an extraordinary opportunity within the profession of dietetics. I highly recommend everyone volunteer for their governing regulatory body at some point in their career! It’s up to US to push the profession forward.)
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
Each and every day and week are different from one another in regards to the type and frequency of task, which is part of why I love what I do! Things are never mundane! Tasks include e-mails, phone calls, and webcam sessions with colleagues, clients, and organizations in order to provide consulting services, and to collaborate on existing or upcoming appointments, workshops, or various developments. Frequently (daily), I will simultaneously work on volunteer projects, course instructor materials (videos, assignments, articles, discussions), and private practice logistics (accounting, administrative duties, workshop lesson planning, and general client charting). Infrequently (1-2 per month), I will provide an in-person seminar, workshop, or demonstration for clients.
What has been your career path?
While completing my academic and supervised practice requirements, I worked at an acute care and orthopedic hospital as a Nutrition Associate. I started my consulting business before I graduated and completed my registration exam. Having a background in business administration, I always wanted to own my own business, so I started early! Once I graduated, I transitioned the business to a U.S. PLLC (since I became a U.S. registered and licensed health care practitioner.) Immediately upon graduation, I was lucky enough to be hired as an instructor for my alma mater, teaching a Human Nutrition course and an Introduction to the Dietetics Profession course. Meanwhile, I completed a master’s program (MS) in adult education, which paved the way for me as a professional for the last year or so. Since then, I’ve developed nutrition and culinary workshops, began teaching at another university, and expanded my client base. Most recently, I became a permanent resident of Canada and moved to Toronto, Ontario, where I am working as a nutrition consultant (self-employed) for organizations and clients in the Toronto area (while managing my U.S. business remotely).
What advanced education or special training do you have?
Master of Science in Adult Education, which was the best decision I could have made. I found that MS program allowed me to expand on knowledge and skillsets beyond the subject of nutrition and, rather, focus on the practice of nutrition, which is applying my knowledge to intended audience(s) and prospective career environment(s).
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
Just as it does today! Expanding fields of practice, greater recognition among the general public and in various professional industries, including clinical care, communications and public relations, branding, social media, research, and all other existing areas of practice. I see our profession continuing to grow, foster, and support a more credible, evidence- and practice-based society.
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
That we’re “food police”. Like our orthodontic and psychologist friends may experience, we are not here to judge one’s behaviors or superficialities. Rather, we are here to help foster, guide, and support changes conducive to one’s well-being. That takes support, commitment, and mutual respect from both parties without quick judgement. The well-being success trajectory is reciprocal between the client and the nutrition professional.
What would you like people to know about RDs?
We eat everything, just like you! Many of ‘us’ crave sweets, love deep fried foods, and salivate when thinking about comfort foods. We sometimes struggle with balance in eating just like everyone else.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
The sociological complexities that come with the application of nutrition and dietetic knowledge. Living and working in a western society, psychological barriers to change are hard for anyone. It can be quite challenging to attempt to modify a culture that looks for a convenient, minimal effort, quick fix. Life is hard, including all its components – relationships, family, professional and personal goals. We all struggle with balance. I think THAT is the game of life! Each client requires different intrinsic and extrinsic support systems in order to achieve their well-being goal(s) by consciously focusing on, say, food and nutrition. Additionally, it can be challenging to suggest/recommend alternatives when you are unfamiliar with the client and their background. I find it helpful to get to know the client’s way of thinking through motivational interviewing. With that, getting to know the client can be challenging. It takes time, patience, and care. Food choices and dietary behaviors hosts a variety of psychological, sociological, and socioeconomic challenges. Luckily, I live for that challenge!
What do people think that you do for a living?
It depends on who you ask.
My family would probably say, “I have no idea” because, when we do get to visit each other and catch up, I’m usually at a place where my practice has developed to a new stage, my creativity has expanded ten-fold, and I’m onto a new chapter of professional and personal goals. I do know that they would say, “Drew is an educator”, which is surreal to hear since I NEVER thought I would end up in the practice of education. But here I am, humbled and fulfilled to be designing, implementing, and managing all types of educational programs and for a wide variety of formal and informal settings.
My friends and colleagues, whom I speak with more often, would probably say, “what doesn’t that guy do?” because, as I stated before, I am consistently seeking new challenges and setting new goals. I can’t get enough of all that the profession of dietetics has to offer (as you can tell by my current areas of practice).
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
Literally everything. I am a huge advocate of the profession not only as a whole but all of the traditional and emerging fields. The more presence we nutrition professionals have at providing credible, evidence-based nutrition education and lifestyle behavior change, the better. Whether it’s research, retail, clinical practice, public relations and communication, non-profit community and government, higher education or grammar school, and all other incredible fields available, I fully support it and whole heartedly!
What makes RDs unique/different from other nutrition/wellness professionals?
To be honest, it’s a matter of knowledge and nutrition expertise. Our undergraduate training is quite comprehensive. Biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology…it would be hard to argue that we don’t know the human body and how it reacts to disease, food, and medications. Couple that with required courses in research, communication and education, and loads of experiential learning opportunities and you have a competent nutrition professional. Add in a masters to complement the scope of practice of an RD and *bam*, you have an incredibly well-equipped individual to pursue support and change in many areas of society.
What is your favourite meal?
Oh, come on! How can you ask a dietitian that?! I speak on behalf (most) dietitians when I say WE LOVE FOOD in all its variety. If I had to pick one meal, it would be…pizza. It’s my guilty pleasure. See, I told you, RDs are humans too!
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Well, if you’re thinking about studying nutrition and dietetics, there are several aspects you need to seriously consider. Your time studying is an investment in your future and career. The study of dietetics is rigorous to say the least. You need to consider IF nutrition/dietetics is truly what you want to pursue. I suggest that you shadow a dietitian working in several different fields in order to determine if pursuing the profession is truly your passion.
If you are a current nutrition and dietetics student, take time to care for yourself. I remember days and weeks of lack of sleep and stress/anxiety because I wanted to learn every little thing and perform at my very best. It’s important to still focus on YOU while pursuing an education.
If you’re an active RD/RDN, NDTR, or other nutrition professional, “keep on keeping on.” We’re in this together, regardless of the difference in fields and environments in which we are employed. We rock!
And if you are a retired nutrition professional, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your commitment and hard work to making the world a credibly informed, flavourful, and healthy place to live and love. You are well appreciated!
Anything else you’d like to add that you feel would be valuable:
Regardless of your intentions with reading What RDs Do interviews, pursue what you are deeply connected to no matter how silly, impractical, or challenging it may be. I say this coming from a previous career and pursuing my true passion, it is worth every drop of sweat and tears. When you do what you love, you won’t “work” a day in your life.
More about Drew:
Linkedin: Drew Hemler, MS, RD (US), CDN
Facebook: Drew Hemler