What they're saying...
These experiences will round you for your ultimate goal: a career that you love – a job that you look forward to waking up for. This field is full of more enrichment – and more surprises – than any other path I could’ve imagined.” - Michelle Sarta, 2019 Coordinated Program in Dietetics + MS in Health Promotion Sciences graduate
One Seamless Journey
Michelle Sarta, a 2019 graduate of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics + MS in Health Promotion Sciences (CPMS) program, was pursuing her goal of becoming a dietitian during a transitional time – the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was increasing the schooling requirement from a bachelors to a masters. Although Michelle could have been grandfathered into the bachelors degree requirement, she chose the CPMS program because of its coordinated nature. “I knew that I wanted to be ahead of the game by pursuing the masters degree, and the coordinated program offered me both the internship experience and degree in one seamless journey – it was a no-brainer for me,” she says.
After graduating from the CPMS program, Michelle began working as a clinical dietitian at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in West Haven, CT. She provides medical nutrition therapy to an acute care population, and also spends time as an outpatient renal dietitian for veterans receiving dialysis at the VA. Eventually, Michelle will transition to working as a full-time outpatient dietitian, once the inpatient demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Covering all the Bases
When looking back on her time at UConn, Michelle believes the solid foundation and heavy clinical focus provided by the dietetics program gave her the ability and confidence to pursue an inpatient position immediately after graduation. But, Michelle mentions, “between my community and food service rotations, there were not any entry-level jobs that felt ‘off-limits’ to me, I felt the experiences were broad enough to cover all of my bases.”
Michelle says that she didn’t realize how vast the field of nutrition was, and the CPMS program opened her eyes to aspects of nutrition well beyond the “clinical” position she imagined. Although she’s currently working in the clinical field, Michelle is grateful for the ability to expand her horizons beyond clinical if she chooses to.
Michelle recommends the CPMS program to anyone who is looking for diverse internship experiences a wide range of clinical, outpatient, and community settings. The program’s established relationships with various internship sites gave Michelle the ability to leverage and pursue the opportunities she wanted to, rather than feeling obligated to pursue anything that was given to her. When reflecting, Michelle says “It was such a privilege to have a choice in my rotations, and to feel satisfied with the experiences that I gained. I never felt as though I had ‘missed out’ on anything.”
The Benefit of Research Expertise
The master’s portion of the program gave Michelle the opportunity to analyze research and understand how to implement evidence-based practice into her work every day. And this knowledge will stick with her, ensuring that she has the tools to remain up to date on the most cutting-edge research in the future.
For her master’s thesis, Michelle was involved in research and wrote the foundation of a paper titled ‘Evaluation of nutrient composition and omega-3 fatty acid consumption patterns related to current guidelines in breast cancer survivors: An observational cohort study,’ which is currently being submitted for publication. “This experience provided me with so much insight into the research field,” Michelle says. “I feel as though when I read a research paper now, I can vividly imagine the process and the amount of work required, which gives me a deep appreciation and respect for researchers and innovators in the field.”
An Enriching and Surprising Field
Michelle gives valuable advice to prospective students – be open to different career paths. “I have found in my trajectory that certain disease states and/or specialties that didn’t initially excite me, wound up being the ones that I wanted to focus on… for example, I am currently taking an intensive, multi-disciplinary class on eating disorders, which is a specialty that never peaked my interest. However, this class has changed my perspective, and I am now more fascinated and interested in this topic than I ever thought I would be.” In addition, in the past, Michelle was originally uninterested in working in nutrition support or ICU care – a field she ended up developing a love for during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she worked with COVID-positive patients in the ICU. “I found the work to be exciting, rewarding, and stimulating,” she says.
And once enrolled in the program, Michelle has advice for picking rotations. “I’d recommend choosing the rotations that feel the most ‘scary’ or ‘challenging’ to you. Are you afraid of nutrition support? Ask for a rotation in the intensive care unit where most of your patients will require tube feedings or intravenous nutrition recommendations. Are you having trouble talking to or connecting with patients? Ask for an outpatient rotation where you’ll be forced to have one-on-one interaction with them for an hour at a time. Choose a rotation that you wouldn’t expect to enjoy. These experiences will round you for your ultimate goal: a career that you love – a job that you look forward to waking up for. This field is full of more enrichment – and more surprises – than any other path I could’ve imagined.”
“As a future dietitian, it’s critical that I’m able to connect clinical, food service, and community fields together and provide the best possible medical advice for my clients. This program has given me the ability to do just that.” - Anthony Duong, 2021 (planned) Coordinated Program in Dietetics + MS in Health Promotion Sciences
Using Food as Fuel
Anthony Duong became interested in nutrition in high school because of his experiences as a high school athlete – he began supplementing his weight training and conditioning with food to fuel his body. “Through nutrition, I was able to overcome the barriers I was experiencing.” Anthony received a bachelor's degree in nutritional sciences major and then joined the Coordinated Program in Dietetics + MS in Health Promotion Sciences (CPMS) program. He plans to graduate in 2021.
As a CPMS student, Anthony works with Dr. Jillian Wanik, Ellen Shanley, and Dr. Valerie Duffy on a research team focused on evaluating malnourished patients and the protocols that acute care systems perform to set up services once the patients are discharged. In addition to his schoolwork and research at UConn, Anthony also works as a diet tech and catering associate lead at the Hospital of Central Connecticut.
Providing the Best Possible Outcome
During his time in the CPMS program, Anthony has gained knowledge and skills to help him in his current career – and to prepare him for his future. “The program focuses on the clinical, food service, and community fields,” Anthony says. “As a future dietitian, it’s critical that I’m able to connect all three of the areas together and provide the best possible medical advice for my clients. This program has given me the ability to do just that.”
When reflecting on the program, Anthony also highlights the importance of working individually and with others – something the CPMS program has provided him. “No matter what field you end up in, it takes all-hands-on-deck in order to provide the best possible outcome,” he says. And when it comes to communicating one-on-one with patients, “being a dietitian is a balance of using clinical judgement along with understanding the patient’s personal beliefs. Building rapport with patients and understanding their stories and connection to food is critical.”
Many Valuable Experiences
As a student, Anthony has gained many valuable experiences – with a few that stick out. “I worked with a patient who had a very strong connection to food, and it was very rewarding to see them light up because they were able to understand and connect their diet to the diagnosis.” He also feels a great sense of pride working in community nutrition. “Whether it be at a food pantry, through WIC, while distributing food at Rentschler Field, or even just when calling people on the phone and educating them about basic nutrition, people are always thankful for the help that we are providing them.”
Everyone Has a Different Story
For students interested in a career in dietetics, Anthony recommends UConn’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics because of the wide range of experiences students are exposed to – and great faculty members and preceptors who “truly care about your success.”
And for students considering a career in dietetics, Anthony provides some advice: “be patient and listen. Every patient and client has a different story and a different reason as to why they are there. It is up to us as dietitians to use that information to provide the best possible outcome.”