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My Journey to becoming a Functional Medicine Dietitian

I get asked about my professional journey a lot and for recommendations on a program or path for nutrition coaching or dietetics. Now, that second part is totally going to depend on you, I can at least share my story and what I know of some good resources.


My background:

  1. Bachelors in dietetics at the University of Nebraska -Lincoln (Go Big Red).

  2. Masters degree and dietetic internship at Kansas University Medical Center.

  3. Functional Medicine training at KU Integrative Medicine Clinic.

  4. From there, the learning hasn’t stopped. That’s part of the fun (IMO). Now it’s conferences, learning with and from clients, seeing patterns of course new research and resources.

True dietitian poses with some of my classmates from grad school

The official steps to become a Registered Dietitian include:

  1. Bachelor’s degree in nutrition/dietetics

  2. Accredited Internship

  3. Master’s Degree (required come 2024)

  4. Passing National Exam

  5. Continuing education required

From there, how to use your degree is allll up to you.The functional medicine part of my journey was optional but that’s my jam and my passion. I was fortunate to have coursework and in person training but there are many many online resources available now (some listed below) and many people you can shadow in person or virtually.


My current practice

I run a virtual private practice with 1-on-1 private clients and online programs with group care so it’s a bit of a variety (which I love). With private clients, I order labs and get very clinical with the process. With group stuff, there are no labs and it’s not as individualized (cuz it really can't be). With my practice being all virtual, I see clients via video and phone consults and my entire business is run online. I love love love it and there's a lot of freedom that.


My advice

If you are considering the nutrition field and are wondering if you should go the dietetics route or another health coaching program, here are some questions I’d recommend thinking through:

  • Do you want to have a clinical focus or do more general education, inspiration, food relationship, blogging and motivation? (not that you can’t do both -- I certainly do) but if you know you don’t want any clinical (like zero science work) then think through that because the journey to becoming an RD is heavy on the science and obviously costs more.

  • Do you want to be able to order labs? If so, you’d need a dietitian or need some form of clinical credentials (MD, DO, NP, etc.) to be able to order (depending on the state).

  • Do you want to work 1-on-1 or with groups? Some states have strict laws on who can provide nutrition advice or medical nutrition therapy in a 1-on-1 setting. Silly, I know, but just check your state as I know a few stories of people running into issues in their state. I know some fantastic clinical nutritionists but legally, there are some rules if you're going to work with someone or a specific medical diagnosis (like diabetes).

  • Do you want to work for yourself or someone else? If it’s someone else, do they require a degree?

  • What financial and time investment are you wanting? My process was about 6 years total but I combined A LOT in the last 2 years of that. The price of internships and functional medicine programs will vary but map out your options after you’ve narrowed down the programs you like/align with.

  • Do I want to go to school (or back to school) or take additional courses (consider current profession)?


More advice:

  1. Shadow individuals doing exactly what you’re considering so you can get a good picture of that life.

  2. Get a mentor or ask to intern for someone!

  3. Ask questions of someone who has been through the program you’re looking at.


A little extra honesty:

I love being a Dietitian but I love the functional medicine part more. Combining both is what allows me to practice the way I do and has given me a deeper understanding of the body. There can be some debate in the dietitian world (as with any profession) because there are different schools of thought around food. You’re gonna have to role with that when you get into the nutrition world at all. I didn’t discover functional medicine until my last 2 years of schooling but I’ll tell you those last 2 years were harder because I didn’t always agree with what was being taught from the textbooks or lectures. In fact, on a few exams I answered questions in a way that I knew would get the test right but I didn’t agree with.


Example:

Question: A man with cancer is struggling to gain weight, what would you recommend?

a) More vegetables

b) Burger and milkshake

c) Soda

d) yogurt


The correct answer according to the professor was…


b) Burger and milkshake


I know, I know...WTF??? It’s because it has the most calories but obviously, if you follow my line of thinking, that’s not exactly the most nutrient dense meal for someone battling an inflammatory condition like cancer. I attempted to argue this question but lost that argument (eye roll).


My answer would have been e) a calorie packed smoothie with real food.


My point is, if the conventional model is already not your jam, it won’t always be easy to get through the schooling but it’s where I learned the foundation of biochemistry, biology, physiology, etc. I very much use and needed that education! Functional medicine training was a breath of fresh air and blew.my.mind but I wouldn’t have been able to dig as deep into the biochemistry and biology of functional medicine without building the foundation in my dietetics education first. It all worked out :) I like to share that though because it would have been harder to do 6 years of that internal conflict.


Fortunately, there are groups within the dietetics community now that take a functional medicine approach so you can have a little support group, if needed. I mean, let’s be honest, anybody in any level of school could use a support group ;)


Resources:

Alright, let’s say you’ve decided you wanna do this and now you just need to pick a path.


Here are some resources I know and like for functional or integrative medicine training (as of 2019): *requires a degree to complete


  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)*

  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)*

  • IFNA (Integrative & Functional Nutrition Academy)*

  • Dietetics & Integrative Medicine Certificate (Kansas University Medical Center )*

  • Adapt Health Coach (Chris Kresser Institute) - “Practitioner” version*

  • Susan Allen Course (Next Level Functional Nutrition)*

  • Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist

  • Avivva Romm Practitioner courses


Other nutrition/coaching courses that are less clinical and don’t require a degree to complete (more heach coaching)

  • Avivva Romm Practitioner courses

  • Adapt Health Coach (Chris Kresser Institute) - “Health Coach” version

  • Institute of Integrative Nutrition

  • Institute for the Psychology of Eating

  • ECornell (plant-based nutrition)

  • Precision Nutrition


If I missed a solid program, shoot me a message! I certainly don’t know them all.


Questions? Let me know here

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