These are the people who you asked to analyze your lunch or ask for food help. There is so much more to it than that.
“A dietician is one who literally studies the chemistry of food and learning how it interacts with our bodies in order to then go help others,” UND junior Emily Bitter said. “As a dietician, we can go out and help with people struggling with any disease related to nutrition.”
As part of their curriculum, dietetics students are required to make twelve-hundred hours of experiential learning for their degree. This is because the program is structured in a rather unique way.
At other universities, dietetics students would receive a bachelor’s degree and then apply for internships. In UND’s coordinated program, students have alternating days for classes and experiential learning.
Doris Wang is the program director for dietetics. She said the structure of the program allows for their major to be focused on evidence-based research.
“So we get people who think they are interested in dietetics, because they have learned about one diet and alternative treatments,” Wang said. “People have a right to believe whatever they want, but we try to make it clear that what we teach here is evidence-based.”
Working at the dining centers was a way to experience the food service component of their learning. Another half-semester was spent at Valley Elder Care to learn about the medical side of things. This semester, juniors are taking shifts back in the dining centers as well as the UND Wellness Center doing demonstrations and counseling.
“We get exposed to so much and it ends up being more than twelve-hundred hours, but we still get experiences through those hours,” UND junior Natalie Olason said. “Where, if you were to go for this degree in another university, your internship would more than likely just after you graduate at just one site. You wouldn’t get all that variety and it’s so beneficial.”
Over time, the program has taken up national causes like fighting food waste in the country. Students like UND junior Linsey Johnson said that the program tries to focus more on preventative causes.
“We would hope that people would make changes that results in a healthy life style for them,” Johnson said. “We would hope people would see the benefits we are trying to promote.”
The road to making these proper recommendations is “intense.” Wang described dietetics as both an art and a science because the variety of courses and skills dietetics students must learn.
These students must take organic chemistry, bio chemistry, anatomy, physiology and two semesters of general chemistry.
“I think that takes a lot of people by surprise, but at the same time that’s definitely the science of what’s happening in your body,” Wang said. “It’s also an art, because it has to look good and taste good in order for people to do that.”
Like most arts, passion and motivation are said to be key qualities in dietetics students. Some students are motivated to help based on their own life experiences and wanting to give back.
Bitter has two reasons. She grew up growing and selling fruits and vegetables on their family farm.
“I guess I really understood and started realizing the cause and the need to promote healthy eating and healthy living,” Bitter said. “Also, I have a couple sisters who are dieticians and really helped me get my foot in the door and understand what it is and what you can do with it.”
“I will always tell prospective students and their parents that we are very confident that if graduates are willing to relocate, there will be a job,” Wang said. “Those that want in dietetics do have one.”
Wang can back this up, because almost 100% of UND dietetics students are employed or in graduate school within a year of earning their degree.
Just remember that their job isn’t the “food police.” In fact, some even eat ice cream. And like it.
Jacob Notermann is a staff writer for the Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]