“Soooo, what are you doing now that you’ve graduated?”
“I didn’t know you were still in Athens….what are you doing..?”
“Did you graduate yet?”
“That’s so great you got a job! What are you doing?”
“You’ve graduated college?!? Honey, you don’t even look 17!”
All of the above are questions I’m typically asked on a regular basis, but sometimes I do get mistaken for a 19 year old instead of 17. I promised I would get a post up detailing my new job, so here I am, answering the big question, “What are you doing?”.
As most of you know, I recently graduated from UGA in December with a degree in Dietetics and minor in Public Health. I had been looking for nutrition-related careers all semester, but it wasn’t until the end of October when my advisor forwarded us an email about a position as a WIC Nutritionist with the local health department that I truly felt interested in a position. Without a second thought, I hopped on the opportunity and sent in my resume, not really expecting to hear back. One week later and I’m sitting in my first real world interview, not quite sweating through my shirt, but close enough. I had known about the WIC program for a few years, and had learned the basics of the program in my Public Health Dietetics course last year (at 8 a.m. on Fridays, mind you). Other than that I didn’t know much about it. Basically, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) is a federally funded program that offers nutrition education, supplemental food vouchers, health care referrals, and breastfeeding support to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding moms as well as their infants and children up to five years of age who have been found to be at a nutritional risk. I strongly believe in WIC because of its work to increase the health status and health literacy of participating mothers and their children. With proper prenatal care like the care that WIC offers, we see longer gestation periods, higher birth weights, and lower infant mortality which all lead to healthier outcomes for future generations.
So, where do I come in? I’m so glad you asked!!! As a nutritionist, I’m the person that clients will talk to at each of their visits. I’m checking weights, heights, and hemoglobin (blood iron levels), as well as assessing for nutritional risks and teaching basic nutrition education for both mom and baby. Through motivational interviewing, I work to motivate clients to create a SMART goal to evoke positive change in their health and eating habits, and encourage them to find ways to overcome barriers to achieving their goal. I’m determining food package needs, referring clients to other health services as needed, and providing breastfeeding support and encouragement to those moms that are pregnant.
While I’m essentially doing the same thing day in and day out (either certifying clients or teaching “second education” appointments), every day is different. Every case and client is unique; they have different concerns, backgrounds, and beliefs, and I must be able to individually assess each client as it pertains to their specific case. Establishing connections and relationships with the moms and children I see is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job, many of the moms will talk to me as if they’re talking to a friend, and I love that! I love getting to hear the stories from moms in the program, many of them are so grateful for the things we have taught them that it’s hard to not leave with a smile on your face at the end of the day.
I don’t consider myself a traditional WIC nutritionist, because I’m…kindof not. Technically, I was hired as a “floating” nutritionist. The Northeast Health District is based out of Athens and is comprised of 10 counties in the surrounding region. As a floating nutritionist, I can be called to fill in at any one of the 10 clinics any time a nutritionist is not able to come in (due to sickness, vacation, trainings, etc.). With every clinic being run in its own way, I’ve had to learn how to adapt to new environments on the daily. One day I can be in a clinic with four other nutritionists while the next day I’m completely on my own as the only nutritionist. Talk about a stable relationship, huh?? In all seriousness though, I’ve come to realize how flexible I can truly be. So often I think we get stuck in a rut of day to day living, and this position has forced me out of my comfort “cruise control” zone.
So…what happens when there isn’t a nutritionist out with the plague and I don’t have a clinic to cover? This is the part of my job that doesn’t quite fit the traditional aspect of a WIC nutritionist. When not in a clinic, you’ll most likely find me working on various projects and tasks with some of the district staff. For instance, I recently put together a staff-wide “National Nutrition Month Challenge” that will be implemented at each of the 10 clinics in the district, which I had a blast planning and organizing. Sometimes I’m calling clients with missed appointments to encourage them to come pick up vouchers and reschedule, other times I’m working in a clinic so more appointments can be made. I’m not kidding when I say my schedule changes daily!
Never did I think I would get a job right out of college – I literally started two weeks to the day of graduation…talk about a short Christmas break. This position has reassured me that my future is going to be spent doing what I love. Teaching others how to make healthy lifestyle choices on their own is one of my greatest passions. I believe that will a little patience, education and practice, everyone has the opportunity to advance to a better state of health. Through my position as a WIC nutritionist, I’m playing an active part in improving the health of women and their children through nutrition education and counseling, and I’ve never felt so satisfied.
So, that’s pretty much it! I wanted to give a little insight into what I’m doing with my “post-grad, pre-internship” life for all of my friends and family I may not keep in touch with as often as I should. I hope this post cleared things up, and perhaps even opened your eyes to what exactly the WIC program is all about and what it has to offer!