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From: Mark Rifkin (
Subject:         Re: Public Health or Dietician?
Date: August 4, 2006 at 10:06 am PST

In Reply to: Public Health or Dietician? posted by Mary on July 29, 2006 at 1:12 pm:

Hi Mary,

Congratulations on your courageous decision to return to school, and thanks for your excellent questions. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

RE: being a veg student/intern, with few exceptions, my vegetarian views did not significantly alter the relationship with my professors or internship preceptors. There were definite challenges, most notably in the clinical rotation of the internship. However, ultimately I think these challenges and frustrations made me a better person, a better dietitian and a better vegetarian. More than ever, I realize that we as a movement lose credibility when we appear rigid and inflexible.

Dietitians as a group tend to be rather "mainstream" and thus regard vegetarian lifestyles as impractical, unnecessary and inconvenient to mainstream food service. Thus the ADA mantra "all foods can fit". The most effective way to alter these views is to alter the demographics of the group who hold those views---i.e., become one of them.

Essentially, that means some of us must sacrifice by deliberately exposing ourselves to objectionable foods, activities, and views for a few months to pursue the greater good. In some ways, I wouldn't be surprised if the meat industry is banking on the assumption that most of us will refuse to make such a sacrifice. Indeed, out of 70,000+/- U.S. dietitians, only 1500 or so belong to the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group within the ADA.

Part of the answer also depends on the politics of the institutions which house the academic programs.
Generally speaking, I would avoid the "land-grant" schools---their nutrition departments tend to be heavily mainstream and neighbors to large animal science programs.

Although some individual internships are definitely competitive, with the new part-time and distance programs, one is no longer limited to local sites.
I live in Maryland, but completed a distance internship program at the University of Delaware (2 hours away), although it was definitely not cheap. Check out the list of academic and internship programs on the ADA website, which also lists those programs with alternative options.

An MPH is definitely becoming more popular today. In fact, many dietitians are completing MPH degrees.
However, MPH involves a lot of non-nutrition courses and would not, in my opinion, carry the same type of credibility for nutrition. Other options would be a Master's degree in nutrition or health education.

In some sense, it depends on where you'd like to work. Government agencies hire both MPHs and RDs.
However, generally speaking, non-clinical positions are limited for a person with either degree. In some sense, as an RD with a progressive mindset, you'd probably have to create your own job as a consultant or in private practice.

Hope that was helpful,
Mark Rifkin, MS, RD, LDN

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