Healthie community, meet Jen Singh RD, LDN, the founder of Nutritionally Balanced Kitchen. We have loved getting to know Jen, and in our interview with her, hearing about her journey to becoming an RD and her decision to go into private practice! Moreover, she offers some fantastic advice on how dietitians can (and should) specialize in their field!
Why and how did you decide to become a dietitian?
I had been interested in nutrition since I was 17, but did not know that I could actually have a career in the field. I was fairly athletic, but I made pretty bad dietary decisions at that age – I thought the more sugar, the more energy – and ate donuts, candy bars and drank sodas frequently. Those bad decisions were not helped by my coach who thought my body fat percent was too low and actually advised me to eat ice cream and candy. What eventually got me on the path to becoming a dietitian came from a nutrition class in a curriculum that was supposed to lead to nursing school. Once I learned that a career in dietetics was actually achievable, I immediately went to my academic adviser to switch courses. I loved that nutrition was so science-focused and so much more than memorizing calories. I also worked in a grocery store through high school and college and was often a little appalled at what people would put in their carts. I began to realize that they just weren’t aware of what a poor diet could lead to and wanted to have a career where I could help people understand why good food is so important.
Can you tell us about your nutrition career to date?
After I completed my dietetic internship, I moved to North Carolina. I searched for a job for a few months before getting a job as a Patient Services Manager at Duke University Hospital; I stayed at this job for 6 years. I supervised 65 employees in the day-to-day operation of feeding 650 patients. In order to still use my knowledge as a dietitian, I also became the administrator of CBORD, the food and nutrition management software we used. Then, as we were planning a change in our style of food service to Room Service, I received a promotion to Director of Food Services. A year later, after Room Service began, I started thinking it was time to pursue my dream of helping people have a better understanding of good nutrition and decided to start my own business. I’m now in my second year of private practice and am so happy I made the switch.
Tell us about your decision to go into private practice – why did you decide it was the right path for you?
I had been wanting to move into private practice since my internship, but knew that it would take time and experience. I wanted to be able to work one-on-one with people to educate and inspire them to meet their nutritional goals and stay as healthy as possible. The best part about private practice is you get time to spend with your patients to do this. Also, the job requires a lot of multi-tasking, which I love as I enjoy staying busy and love to learn new things.
What advice do you have for dietitians just getting started?
Find a mentor and build a network. It may take some time, but having a good network of other dietitians and health care professionals has been very beneficial – everything from support to commiseration, expertise, and referrals have all been thanks to a good network. A mentor can be incredibly helpful in building your network, as well as answering questions and helping you understand your potential. Also, most importantly, know that it takes time. Many private practices don’t hit a good stride until after their first or even second year of business. You’ll be doing a lot of business development. You may want either a part-time job, or some money saved up until your business becomes steady.
How do you think technology is changing the way dietitians are practicing care?
Technology can be a great way to reach a wider base of clients. Many clients I’ve seen in the traditional office setting have had to work their schedules around seeing me, which can be tough. Technology can help those with exceptionally busy schedules meet with their RD at more convenient times, and/or take commuting to the office out of the scheduling equation. It has helped me with clients in other towns as well- for instance, I have been able to see my clients who have gone off to college or recently moved. The only bad thing is these clients have to pay out of pocket because not all insurance covers tele- or web-health visits.
Figure out what you do well or who you like to work with. Some dietitians find it hard to specialize, at least at first because they don’t want to exclude anyone (don’t worry, you don’t have to), but there will be areas you do well with or are interested in. This can help direct business better to you, whether through referrals or your webpage SEO. For instance, cooking is my specialty, so I make sure to advertise that I can teach cooking classes. While I haven’t gotten many one-on-one clients to teach cooking to, like I originally thought I would, I’ve had a lot of companies request my business for lunch-and-learns or samples for health fairs.
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