This Journey-to-RD Business is Tough Shit

Time for some real talk guys:

This journey to RD business is tough shit.

Have you been muddling through feeling like your the only one struggling? You may have a case of imposter syndrome orrrr you may also just be experiencing what is totally NORMAL on this journey. I mean, 4+years of full time undergraduate work racking up your student debt, and then another one-ish on top of that with full time unpaid work? Crazy. So what I’m talking about here guys is the financial struggle.

No doubt there are a huge host of other struggles that come along, but let’s talk about the taboo topic of money for a sec. I’m going to share my story to give you a glimpse into my struggles along the journey so perhaps you don’t feel so alone in yours.

Let’s start with this infamous quote of mine:

I started this journey on a couch, might as well finish on one!

Yep, that was my humorous take on my financial struggles along the journey, though I really didn’t shout it from the rooftops.

Here’s a pic of me on the couch that I finished my degree on (and my pup roommate – that was a win!!)

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Let’s start with the first couch: SO I ended up on the couch of a friend’s and her boyfriend’s (three people, one bedroom apartment, weo!) when shit hit the fan with my ex and I packed up and walked out with no where to go. (P.S. I owe these friends my LIFE). I was in Newfoundland at the time in my second-ish year of my nutrition degree and preparing to transfer universities and move provinces in a few short months. Giving up my relationship at the time also meant leaving a vehicle (p.s. when your bf convinces you to sell your car and share one, do not ignore your gut feelings about it!!!) and my home that was in walking distance to my work. Without these amenities I was unsure in the beginning how I was even going to keep working. Thankfully with my friend’s and coworker’s help I was able to pull through but I sure as hell did NOT have money to spare.

In fact when I decided to move provinces to pursue this career (the program was not offered in full in my home province) I called my dad to ask him if it was a realistic move. We had struggled financially for quite some time so before things even started to fall apart I wondered how I could do it. With false hope, I stuck with my decision.

Things do have a way of working out though so I somehow managed to make it to Nova Scotia, carrying all I owned in two checked bags, and continued my program. Though it did not come without waves of frustration, anger, feelings of not belonging, sitting out of activities I couldn’t afford, and tearful conversations with my dad in anger that things were no better.

I’m not trying to say I had it super awful – of course things could have been worse and there are people out there living in far worse poverty! I’m just saying:

If you are struggling, I hear you.

If you aren’t sure how you’re going to make rent, I hear you.

If you’ve sat out on gatherings with friends because you couldn’t afford a ticket or a drink, I hear you.

 A lot can be said though about buckling down and bearing through the struggle. So that’s what I did – I had no choice. And silly me even decided near the end of my degree to pursue another in a CRAZY expensive city. That one, however, came with lesser struggle believe it or not, because I had built up my credit enough to get some security and Ryerson University was amazing at providing support as well.

But…. long story short, I ended up on another couch near the end. I had come close to exhausting my resources near the end of my program and had some great opportunities (internship-wise) waiting for me back in Nova Scotia if I could manage to get there and keep a roof over my head. All I can say is THANK GOD for amazing friends who help make that happen. I literally would not have gotten where I am without their support.

So moral of the story here guys is if you are struggling, you are not the only one. You could never tell by looking at your colleagues where they lay their head at night. So chin up, be kind to one another, and keep trucking! You got this!

XOX

Remember What You Have is Once All You Wanted

You know how we’re all go go go and onto the next thing before we even stop for a second to breathe? I rambled on about this in the last blog so if you haven’t checked it out yet you can here, but today I’m looking at things from a perspective that you HAVE to consider.

A while ago I came across a quote (that I can’t find right now so don’t haggle me for trying to infringe copyright – I’m not) that went something like this…

Why do we get caught up in our lives and keep saying with a heavy sigh and tone of regret, “I have to”? “Ugh, I have to work that day”, “I can’t, I have to clean the house”, “When I get home I have to study”, “I have to take the dog out to walk”, etc. etc. Think about the magic that will happen when we turn that ‘I have to’ into “I GET to”.  

I GET to go to work.

I GET to clean the house I live in.

I GET to study and obtain an education.

I GET to take my doggie out. (Throwing shade at all of you out there with doggies because I’m hella jealous)

Think about it: The day you got that job you were probably bouncing off the walls. The day you got accepted for that application to lease or buy you were definitely celebrating. The day you got into that program or secured that funding to support your education and future was crazy exciting. And don’t even get me started about the day you got your dog… I’m not even going there. But just think about it – those things were BLESSINGS. And still are!!!

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They were once things you wanted SO bad and now we shrug at them like they’re the biggest pains in our butts. We’re all guilty of it though, myself included!

When I started thinking about this for the first time my mind jumped right back to when I was preparing to move for my graduate program. I was preparing to move from Nova Scotia to Toronto and getting an apartment was tough s#$!. In such a competitive market nobody would give the girl in another province the time of day. Oh, and that girl is on a budget? Oh, and wants to live by herself? Ouuu, good luck.

Long story short, someone up there was looking after me and somehow I was granted the best apartment (with a cherry tree in the yard might I add!!), the best landlord, and all within budget. Such a blessing.

However fast forward to me actually living in Toronto. It was tough. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized the city was not for me – for more reasons than one. It came with such hardship that I lost sight of that blessing pretty quickly. Then I became overwhelmed with school work – I was constantly with my head in a book. Constantly looking over my shoulder afraid of the big city and scary people. Constantly thinking in the future – what I had to do next, what networking event to go to, what blog post to write, what assignment to get a start on, etc. etc.

I was so caught up and at times so frustrated, that I almost forgot that everything I had was exactly what I once wanted [and worked my butt off for].

A pivotal moment.

Amongst the bustle one evening, I stopped for a moment in the doorway of my bedroom. Standing there I could see the kitchen and living space to my left, the bedroom and bathroom to the right. It was dimly lit. It was quiet. It was beautiful. 

It was mine.

Then it hit me: I did it. I got exactly what I wanted.

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I just stood there to take it in. For the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, I stood back to look at what I had and appreciate it, and praise myself for getting it. Instead of wallowing in thoughts of disappointment, fear, and misery living in the city, I thought about how lucky I was to have this beautiful space under the care of such a kind landlord, for such an incredible opportunity and education.

So I encourage you all to take a look today at your surroundings from a different lens. How badly did you once want what you now have?

Relax, Reflect, Reward Yourself

How often do you do that? Relax, reflect, reward yourself?

If you’re like any of the other millions of dietetic students, interns, or professionals, likely not very much. I’m going to get stereotypical here for a moment (I know, I know, you shouldn’t do that) but SERIOUSLY aren’t we all like type A?! Okay, maybe not all but come on, the dietetic profession is so darn competitive that it is engrained in us to WORK WORK WORK. VOLUNTEER. EAT. STUDY. SLEEP. REPEAT. Ridiculous.

To get a dietetic internship these days you practically have to be superwoman/man..  and do super people relax, reflect, reward? Well, I don’t know, but that’s sure as hell not what they’re doing in the movies!

My point here is that it is super common for us folk to overwork ourselves. We work extra hours. Do the extra credit. Take the extra caseload. Always with our eye on the next ‘thing’. The next assignment. The next application. The next promotion. The next opportunity.

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I know I’m not alone when I finish a task and my immediate thought is OKAY ONTO THE NEXT.

In this post I am preaching what I am trying [and getting better at practicing]. Relax, reflect, reward yourself. I wrote about the ‘reward yourself’ bit when I wrote the ‘Celebrate every step’ post but the big part I’ve been dedicating even more time into lately is the reflection piece.

How can you even comprehend what just happened when you rush onto the next? How can you acknowledge and appreciate all the time, effort, and energy you just put into something when you blow past it so quickly? When you take the time to relax and reflect – that is to look back on what just happened and think about how far you’ve come – you will experience a world of difference.

A world of difference in your gratitude.

A world of difference in your self-talk.

A world of difference in your confidence.

A world of difference in your mood for the day.

Take the time to think about how far you’ve come.

An example I’ll give you is this –  Brace yourself for some real talk: I cried the whole way home for the first couple weeks of my first RD job.

Yep. It’s not what you think though… They were tears of happiness. A day after completing my internship my contract started with Acadia University, the university where I completed my undergrad, to teach one of their undergraduate courses. An absolute dream come true. Since I had to drive an hour back home after work every time, I was basically forced to relax and reflect, and with that, the tears came.

Reflecting on how far I had come since being a student at Acadia (just a mere two years prior) was astounding. Did I have shit to do when I got home? Oh yes. Was it a learning curve? Oh yes. But you know what I did when I got home those days? Put my feet up, wiped my tears away while smiling and laughing at myself, and rewarded myself with a glass of wine and some quiet time.

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Did I neglect all my responsibilities? No. Did I fall behind in everything I had to do? No. But did I embody every ounce of joy that came with such an experience? Absolutely. By rushing onto the next task, the immense emotion that came with reflecting on my accomplishments never would have come out. And what a memory to have. I am sure when I look back on the experience years from now I will think to those car rides when I could hardly see through the tears.

To relax, reflect, and reward yourself doesn’t have to take long. I promise you that it will offer more benefit than it will burden, and I am so grateful for those long car rides for reminding me of that.

I challenge you to take 30 seconds of your day now to ponder this:

Where were you two years ago?

How far have you come in your skill set, mindset, experiences, and accomplishments since then?

Now, how will you reward yourself?

 

XOX

Does it Feel Out of Reach? Then Stretch.

Today I’m going to pass advice onto you that was passed onto me and totally changed my outlook and my approach to job hunting.

If it feels out of reach, then stretch.

You know how most job postings want you to have 3+ years of experience? You know how grad schools want you to have a ridiculous GPA? Well, basically what I’m saying is F#$! ’em. In the nicest way possible.

If you’ve been in this seat where you feel restricted by the listed qualifications and assume the position is therefore out of reach, JUST STRETCH. APPLY. APPLY. APPLY.

I have been blown away by the professionals who’ve told me that many of the listings don’t mean s#$!. Well, I mean, some can be rigid, but I think we all assume that ALL the listed qualifications are rigid and if we don’t meet them 100% we are not considered. That couldn’t be less true.

I’ve heard SO many stories now of people who’ve applied for positions they’ve felt were out of reach. One of the most successful dietitians I know told me when she applied for the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto (very prestigious and very competitive) her GPA was well below what was “required”. Out of reach right? You know what she did? Stretched. Applied anyway. Put herself out there and killed the interview. Graduated top of her class in the program and is out in the workforce now making waves.

If you have a strong skill set and a hell of a lot to bring to the table then bring it. Even if you lack in one or few areas if you totally make them fall in love with your other assets, then how could they say no?

The same goes for job postings. Don’t sit around and sulk about how everyone wants you to have experience and its impossible as a new grad, just stretch. Apply. Bring confidence. Kill it. It would surprise you how many successful professionals surround you who didn’t 100% fit the mold initially. We all have to start somewhere right?

Happy stretching folks! You got this.

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xox

CDRE Part 2: Exam Structure and How to Prepare

Hi again, Brie here! Welcome to Part 2 of my blog on the CDRE. If you haven’t yet checked out part one, you can by clicking here. This time, we’ll be going into a little more detail on the format and structure of the exam. Before we begin, I want to stress that most of this information can also be found in the CDRE Prep Guide.While I’ve highlighted some of the important points, I strongly suggest you still read the guide, too!

The CDRE Prep Guide

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You know how new appliances come with a disclaimer that says “please read the instruction manual before operation”? Well the CDRE comes with a similar suggestion, except this time you really should open it and read it thoroughly! It may seem tedious, but the CDRE prep guide covers everything you need to know about writing the exam. Every. Single. Thing. I’m talking so much detail that on their list of things you can bring in with you, it even lists your glasses!

Exam Format

Before you dive into studying, it’s important to understand the format and structure of the exam. The CDRE consists of 185 multiple-choice questions, which you have 4 hours to complete. There are some independent questions as well as passage-based questions with 3-6 questions related to a single case or scenario. It’s done completely through a computer-based system, but you do have a white board and marker to help you work through your thoughts. The good thing is that you definitely don’t have to waste time re-learning how to draw the Krebs Cycle!

Cognitive Categories

The exam is broken down into three cognitive categories, so different questions test varying levels of cognitive ability. When reading the exam questions, look for words that indicate the cognitive category. For example, the word ‘integrate’ indicates a higher cognitive level than ‘identify’.

  • 15% of questions demonstrate broad knowledge
  • 35% demonstrate comprehension of knowledge
  • 50% employ critical thinking (analyzing, interpreting, and applying knowledge)

Practice Competencies

The CDRE tests performance indicators from one of five practice competency areas. Pay close attention to each question and what it’s really asking, because it can be tricky. For example, the setting might be in a food service kitchen, but the question is actually testing a communication-related performance indicator. It’s really important to identify which competency area is being tested since it can influence your answer! (See How to Read an Exam Question in the prep guide).

  • 15% Professional Practice
  • 13% Communication and Collaboration
  • 35% Nutrition Care
  • 15% Population and Public Health
  • 22% Management

Knowledge Topics and Tips

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            If you’re here looking for a specific list of what to study, I’m sorry to disappoint… Not only is that impractical, I’m also not allowed to discuss any exam specifics! I can, however, give you a few tips that might guide your studying decisions and better prepare you for taking the exam:

  • Check out Appendix G: Knowledge Topics of the prep guide. This is the closest thing you’ll find to a study guide! Remember, while it is a long list, it’s not all-inclusive.
  • Crack open old textbooks and read over internship notes. I found my nutrition care and food service management textbooks especially helpful.
  • Know your clinical conditions. As indicated by the distribution of the competency areas, the exam is heavy on nutrition care
  • Do your research on clinical areas that you weren’t exposed to yourself during internship placements. The CDRE will touch on pretty much every condition and clinical area in some way, so be prepared for that!
  • Don’t memorize conversions or equations. All the calculations will be done for you so that you can focus on just applying your knowledge!
  • Be familiar with common lab values. While the normal range may be given to you, you should still be able to interpret the lab values an entry-level dietitian would deal with.
  • There might seem to be more than one right answer. When this happens, use temporal clues to figure out what answer is the most correct. For example, “What should the dietitian do first?”.
  • Do the practice questions in the exam guide!!! They are perfect examples of actual exam questions and will help you get used to the wording.

Exam Scoring

            Something I really struggled with heading into the exam is not knowing what “score” I needed. It’s not surprising – throughout our student careers, the value of a number or letter grade is drilled into our heads. However, the CDRE is simply pass or fail. It measures if you demonstrate minimal competence, not HOW competent you are. The actual passing score for the exam is not released, and since you don’t know what “score” you’re aiming for, it’s totally normal to leave the exam not knowing how to really feel about it. But the good news is, it’s over! There’s no sense in dwelling on it, or else you’re in for a long 6 weeks.

Remember, you wouldn’t have a degree and an internship under your belt if you weren’t capable of passing this exam! And for those who don’t, that’s ok too, it happens. Just pull yourself together and kill it on the second round!

Good luck and happy studying!

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CDRE Part 1: How to Register and What to Expect

In Canada, to become a dietitian you have to write the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam (CDRE), so Brianna Kean, one of our previous guest bloggers is here to prep us! Thanks Brie!

We all know the journey to becoming a dietitian isn’t a short one. After five (or more) years of education and practicums, we finally emerge ready to make the world a healthier place. While this is definitely a means for celebration, there’s still one more step between you and that precious title– the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam!

While applying for the CDRE isn’t quite as grueling as applying for internships, it can still seem intimidating at first. To make this last step of your journey a little easier, I’ve outlined some basic info that might help you along. But before I do – please note that this was my experience as an applicant in Nova Scotia. Every province has its own regulatory body, and so the processes and documents may be a little different.

Applying to Write the CDRE

In Nova Scotia, the first step to writing the CDRE is applying for a temporary membership with the NSDA. Since gathering documents can take some time it’s best to start as early as you can! Here are a few things you might need to gather before completing the online application:

  1. A verification letter from your institution – my internship director wrote and sent this letter for me.
  2. Your university transcripts– you can usually order these online through your school’s website and have them sent straight to the regulatory body. Keep in mind that this may take a few weeks.
  3. A copy of your birth certificate or citizenship document.

Be prepared to pay the membership/exam fee upon submitting your application. If you’re able to pay via e-transfer like I was, be careful to send the right amount, which I did not.The unexpected $50 refund months later was a nice surprise though!

Scheduling an Appointment

            Once everything is accepted, you’ll receive confirmation of your temporary membership and be assigned a membership ID. Congrats – this means you can now legally work as a dietitian in your province!!! Within a couple of weeks, you should get an email from the external exam company, with instructions on how to pick a date, time, and location to write your CDRE. 

            The CDRE takes place over a 6-day period. My advice is to choose your exam time carefully. At first, I planned on choosing an early date so I could get it over with ASAP. But because of the limited options available in my area, I ended up booking mine for the second-last day. Looking back, I’m grateful that I ended up having a few extra days to study!

Exam Day

            Fast forward to exam day. You’ve (hopefully) put weeks to months of your spare time into studying for this one test. Don’t worry, I’m not skipping over the exam prep period, I’m devoting a whole other article to that! For now, my advice is to make sure you’re well-rested and well fed on the day of your exam. Your brain is going to need lots of extra fuel today!       

Before leaving the house, make sure you have two pieces of ID with you. Also, leave with PLENTY of time to arrive and find the right room, accounting for any unexpected delays (ex. railroad crossings that make you sit in agony for ten whole minutes). It’s suggested that you arrive 30 minutes early so you can get registered and be ready to begin on time.

On my exam day, I woke up feeling slightly nervous but with an overwhelming sense of relief that it would soon be done and over with. However, I also woke up to a winter storm. In a place that shuts down with a single snowflake in the forecast, I knew my exam would be canceled. *Instant panic*. How do I reschedule it? What if they can’t reschedule me within the exam window? What if I have to wait until the next sitting, in 6 months?! If this happens to you, don’t worry as much as I did. The exam company will get in contact and reschedule your exam for you!

I hope this helps you wrap your head around the CDRE process – keep an eye out for my next blog CDREPart 2: Exam Structure and How to Prepare!

Guest Post: For Applicants Who Haven’t Landed an Internship Yet

I don’t think it ever seriously occurred to me that I actually wouldn’t get an internship the first year I applied (or the second for that matter). Even if it did, everyone around me told me not to worry about it, that I’d have something.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

And once I didn’t have an internship spot that first year, there’s a handful of thing I wish someone had told me. (Spoiler alert: eventually I did get in on my third time applying, and I now work as a Registered Dietitian, and just passed my CDRE!).  

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Hi, I’m Mairead and this post is for all the applicants who there who haven’t landed an internship yet.

Here’s what would’ve been helpful for someone

to tell me four years ago:

This is not the end of the world. Yes, it feels like the end of the world. But it’s not. No matter who else is doing what or where you end up, it’s not the end of the world. 

You’re allowed to have a pity party. You don’t have to move on to the next step yet. Not getting an internship when you want one is so so so hard and it sucks so so so much. If you’re stuck on that for a bit, that’s ok.

Your education up to this point is not wasted. Whether anyone has told you so or not, the world does need nutrition majors. Not just as dietitians, but in other roles too. Whether you end up working in nutrition or not, remember you have education in science, counselling, physiology, psychology, foodservice management and food science, to name a few areas. You can apply this to other areas besides dietetics. 

No one else has the answer for what you’re supposed to do. You can ask every faculty advisor and career counselor, but they won’t be able to tell you exactly what to do or exactly what steps to take in the next year to be successful applying again. You do have to go figure that out for yourself.

You can go do anything you’re interested in! Instead of volunteering just for it to be on your resume, you can volunteer because an event or program sounds awesome and you have the skills for it! You can take courses or certifications in anything that interests you. These are the things that will give you more knowledge to pull on as an intern and will give you an edge applying for jobs both before and after internships. 

Focus on other things. Try new hobbies and take on new projects. If you’re not a student right now, you might actually have more time for these kinds of things. Enjoy that time. Don’t put your life on hold waiting for that internship. Move somewhere you want to be, take jobs you’re excited about, get engaged, get a puppy, keep moving. 

Meet people. Reach out to people who are doing cool things that you’re interested in and ask them how they got there. Be interested in their stories and have an answer when they ask you what you do or what you want to do. Tell them what you’re interested in. Tell everyone what you’re interested in. You want to be a dietitian because you love helping people and love food? What about it? Make sure everyone knows what kind of things you get excited about so when there’s an opportunity or a project, they want you in it. 

Don’t limit yourself because you’re not a dietitian (yet). Can you take a position as a dietitian or act within their scope? Obviously not. But that doesn’t mean whatever you’re doing is any less cool or any less important. 

You’re not a failure. You’re only failing when you’re not moving forward, whether that’s towards becoming a dietitian or towards something else, even if you don’t know what that is yet. As long as you’re trying to learn and grow and trying to find a path that you love, you’re not a failure.

If/when you finally get an internship: you belong here. You know your stuff. You have experience to pull on and you deserve to be here as much as anyone else.

You’re doing a good job and you’ve got this.