Helping Others to Achieve Optimal Health
What did you do before you went to the University of Washington?
I was born and raised in South Korea. I started college as a Biotechnology major, then took a year off to explore what I’d really like to do for my career. When I came back to school, I changed my major to food and nutrition and even ended up becoming a student leader for the food and nutrition department. I worked as a dietitian for three years counseling outpatients with chronic diseases. I was inspired to keep developing as a professional to help others achieve optimal health. While I enjoyed my job, I wanted to learn more about specific fields of nutrition, like pediatrics and critical care. Thus, I decided to come to the U.S. where the field of nutrition is more advanced and specialized. To fulfill prerequisites for graduate school, I studied at Bellevue College for three quarters. I also lived with a home-stay family to learn more about American culture and food.
My school friends used to call me ‘Radish’ because of the red skin all over my face and back from terrible acne. I tried every treatment imaginable, but none worked until I met a doctor who was also a dietitian. After an exam and a few weeks of keeping a food diary, she concluded that I had a low metabolism with a high-fat diet and prescribed a much leaner diet into my treatment plan. It worked! After a few months, my skin noticeably improved and I felt a lot healthier. It took a dietitian to figure out the problem and how to solve it. This experience made me think of becoming a dietitian, and to help others the way my doctor helped me. There are lots of career paths in nutrition. The importance of nutrition for overall health and disease treatment is becoming more well-known. Other fields of study are also interested in nutrition, so you can expand your career options through nutrition alongside these.
The UW’s GCPD really helped me prepare for becoming a great dietitian; the program helped me build advanced knowledge in nutrition, research skills, and make great connections. It was intense, but worth it!
Why did you choose the UW Nutritional Sciences Program’s Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics (GCPD)?
When I applied for a graduate program, the UW was my priority because I was looking for a program with a coordinated internship, and because of my interest in pediatric nutrition. As an international student, I thought it would be more difficult to find an internship myself. The University of Washington is a prestigious research institution affiliated with great partners, like UW Medical Center (UWMC) and Harborview Medical Center (HMC).
Tell me about your experience with the program.
I am so grateful! The UW’s GCPD really helped me prepare for becoming a great dietitian; the program helped me build advanced knowledge in nutrition, research skills, and make great connections. It was intense, but worth it! Since I was interested in pediatrics, I joined the UW LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Program Nutrition Fellowship, and was able to build my skills in nutrition care for children with special healthcare needs. I found awesome mentors (Sharon Feucht, Beth Ogata, Mari O. Mazon, and Jenie Heffernan). I cannot fully express how thankful I am for my experiences during graduate school. Lingtak-Neander Chan gave great guidance and support during my graduate thesis. Anne Lund gave support in the program overall, and Katie Farver, a retired dietitian from HMC, was very helpful when I was applying to grad school. The relationships I developed continue even today, I still get advice and help from my mentors.
What do you do in your role now?
I kept telling myself, “let’s take this one step and then see what I can do next”. I found many opportunities and many people to help me when I tried hard. This kind of thinking is how I got where I am today.
In my current role as a dietitian at Swedish Medical Center (Issaquah campus), I work with in-patients to provide optimal nutrition for their medical needs. The hospital includes a variety of units, including an ICU and an NICU, as well as other medical units. I am one of three of the hospital’s dietitians, so we rotate our roles each month. This allows me to assist with patients from neonates to adults. I especially enjoy working in enteral nutrition (nutrition through a feeding tube), and parenteral nutrition (intravenous nutrition), and doing problem-solving calculations. I have many opportunities to work closely with the other healthcare providers. I especially love the fields of enteral and parenteral nutrition which are very specialized, and you can see the results very quickly from patients.
What advice would you give to other folks considering a similar career path?
I want to encourage other international professionals and students and tell them that language is not the biggest obstacle to following this career path. I initially worried a lot that my English language skills might be a big barrier to my career, but that hasn’t been true. My patients know that I care about them and that I have the knowledge to improve their health. So, I have learned to speak a little more slowly and use clear language, I have also realized that nonverbal communication (e.g. gesture, eye contact, tone of speech, etc.) is as important as verbal communication.
“Behind every success is effort, and behind every effort is passion.” I’m inspired everyday by these words and advise others to follow their passions as well. If you are unsure about your first career choice, you should still try it if you have passion in that field. When I first moved to the U.S., I often felt overwhelmed and uncertain. But I kept telling myself, “let’s take this one step and then see what I can do next”. I found many opportunities and many people to help me when I tried hard. This kind of thinking is how I got where I am today.
My future goal is to build up my expertise in nutrition support. Beyond that, I would love to share my knowledge and practical skills that I have learned in the US with dietitians and other health care providers in other countries, including Korea.
Interview by Yiling Wong
For more on the UW Nutritional Sciences Program and stories from current and former students, see Graduate Study Overview