Professional Development

Dietitians as Leaders: We Can Make a Difference

On my road to becoming a dietitian, I didn’t set out to be a leader. After completing my internship and starting my career, however, I began accepting roles in the local dietetics association. Even without a grand plan to pursue leadership positions, I continued to take advantage of opportunities in the state and national Academies, which have influenced my career and, I hope, benefited our profession.

In her President’s Page in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Sylvia Escott-Stump, MA, RD, LDN, wrote, “Experience shows me that leadership opportunities arise when you are doing what you were meant to do, especially when you are passionate about it.” My leadership within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has fueled my passion for our profession and its members. I’m constantly amazed at the many ways we influence the nutrition and health status of others.

Following are profiles of three leaders in dietetics who share their perspectives on the importance of professional involvement.

Carol Ireton-Jones, PhD, RDN, CNSC, FAND, FASPEN, a noted expert in nutrition support, no only has served as a leader in the Dietitians in Nutrition Support Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) and the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition but also on district and state boards and in the national House of Delegates. According to Carol, “I cannot remember a time I didn’t want to participate. As soon as [I began] my first hospital job, I attended district meetings and volunteered. The key benefits were getting to know other [professionals] and realizing that I could make a difference in a small organization and potentially a larger one. My work as a leader has led to both professional and personal enhancement and job opportunities. An important component has been encouraging and fostering new leaders in nutrition support, which benefits the dietetics profession.”

Well-known in the area of eating disorders, Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD, has chaired the Behavioral Health Nutrition DPG and founded the International Federation of Eating Disorder Dietitians. In describing her leadership path, she says, “Even though I’m not the smartest dietitian or the one who has been treating eating disorders the longest, I am one who has been ‘out there’—not always a safe or comfortable place. But I believe it has been worthwhile for me and for those I serve. I would have been happy as a follower, but there just wasn’t anyone taking the path that made the most sense for me. I would not have been able to get to the place where I am, however, without others who blazed part of the trail ahead of me.”

Dora Rivas, MS, RDN, SNS, is a school nutrition program specialist with the US Department of Defense. While president of the School Nutrition Association, she collaborated on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and worked on the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. She’s mentored hundreds of students and interns in school nutrition. Dora explains, “I never set out to be a leader in childhood nutrition; however, because I truly believe it plays such an important role in the lives of our children and community, it has driven me to take a strong leadership role in advocating for a healthful school environment. To create change, it takes believing it is possible to improve the lives of future generations and never giving up on that idea.”

In her President’s Page, Escott-Stump also wrote, “Each of us has within us the power and the responsibility of leadership. How we use this power and fulfill our responsibility is up to each of us.” Will you accept her challenge? If each of us assumes a leadership role, large or small, we can make a difference for our profession, ourselves, and those we serve.

— Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, is a nutrition communications consultant in Dallas working with a variety of food and nutrition organizations and companies to promote science-based nutrition information. A long-time leader she received a 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Medallion Award and the 2016 Texas Academy Outstanding Preceptor Award.

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