Sometimes it seems crazy the lengths we go to in order to be able to put some letters after our name. In my case, after I had worked through a Master’s program in German to acquire the letters “M.A.,” I thought if I ever went back to school again, it would be to add three more letters: PhD. I never could have guessed that in fact the three letters would be totally different…a combination of letters I had never even heard of: DTR.
This all started a little over four years ago, when I was deep in the trenches of stay-at-home motherhood with children ages 1, 3, and 5. While in theory I believed (and still do) that me staying home with my kids was the very best thing for them, my days were often long, frustrating, and devoid of that “thing with feathers that perches in the soul”: hope. The road of raising my children seemed so long, and quite honestly, being on it in the first place had taken me by surprise. As an ambitious young thing going through high school, college, and my early adulthood, I had truly never thought about what I would do work-wise if and when I had children. So when they came along and my husband and I decided it was best for me not to work, I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder about shirking my big-deal education. Even if I chosen to work, however, the trouble with my education was that it was so specific as to be obscure. There really weren’t a lot of options for meaningful work in my field, at least not where we live.
All this led to the feeling of being back at square one when I thought about that all-important question of WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE, both in the moment and down the road when my kids got older.
Around this time, our family had started gardening and I was doing a lot of reading of books about food. My husband Anthony had brought home a copy of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, from his then-employer, a book publishing company. I devoured it (pun intended), then moved on to other, similar reads like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, What to Eat by Marion Nestle, and Gulp by Mary Roach. Since, as a mom of young kids, I was already motivated to feed them well, these books both met me where I was at and gave me interesting, challenging information on an adult level. That felt good.
The more I read, the more focused became my priorities for my family’s nutritional well-being, and the greater grew my concern for public health issues like obesity and type two diabetes. A plan began to form in my head. Nutrition, it seemed to me, was a much broader job market than German could ever be anywhere outside of Europe. After all, everyone eats, right? Could there be a career for me in this wide-open field?
Casually, I looked up my local community college’s nutrition program. Maybe I could take a class, just to check it out. That’s what I said out loud, anyway. My school-loving, accomplishment-driven inner self was already hatching plans for exactly which classes to take every semester, and calculating exactly how long a whole degree would take.
So, in January 2013, I registered for FON 142: Applied Food Principles. With my oldest son in kindergarten, my middle son in preschool, and my daughter at the home of a helpful friend, making it to the Friday morning class wasn’t a problem. I must say, being a 30-something mom walking into a community college class full of hipster 19-year-olds, I felt utterly self-conscious, but that insecurity soon fell away as I embraced the treasure of having something for myself again in the midst of giving and giving to my little ones–something that could possibly turn into a fulfilling career.
Little by little, semester by semester, I added more classes, often taking them online so as not to have to leave my kids. Every class brought me closer to my goal: to become a Registered Dietitian. Eventually, though, the realities of the R.D. loomed large before me: a LOT of coursework, a commute to downtown Phoenix to finish the degree, and the extreme competitiveness for R.D. internships (for which many people have to leave the state). It didn’t take long to realize that it all added up to a major mountain to climb for my relatively small goal of finding likable part-time work in the field of nutrition.
So I switched gears and decided on the associate’s level credential of DTR: Dietetic Technician, Registered. A DTR is able to hold many of the same responsibilities as an R.D., and the credential comes with its own 9-month internship–the difference being that the DTR intern is placed by her college, rather than having to apply for rare and highly sought-after R.D. internships. I like to tell people a DTR is like a junior R.D.
Having finished all my coursework by the end of 2015, in 2016 I launched into the requisite internship rotations of clinical, community, and food service. Let’s just say there were good times and bad times, and in the end, my heart was drawn more than ever to finding work in some type of community nutrition or public health.
And then it was finally done! My last day of internship was at the end of October 2016 and I graduated sometime in mid-December. (I think? I didn’t walk at the ceremony.) It all felt like a huge relief, and an accomplishment I’m very proud of. Pretty much immediately–and definitely by the hand of God–I landed a part-time job with an awesome schedule at a museum run by the American Heart Association, where I wear a lot of different hats, including teaching kids and adults about heart-healthy eating.
There was one last step. To be an actual, licensed DTR, one must take a Big, Hairy, Snaggletoothed Monster of an exam. An exam for which people tell you things like, “Just study everything you ever learned in your whole program” and “There’s really no way to prepare.” Yeah, thanks a bunch. To give myself some time between finishing school, adjusting to a new job, and taking the actual test, I scheduled it for April 1st. (Not a joke.) I studied everything I could think of to study and took numerous practice exams using a software program my wonderful former classmate lent me. By the day of the test, I was just ready for it to be over! I felt very confident that I had studied enough and that everything would be fine.
Well, all those good vibes went swirling down the drain as I sat taking the exam. My friends, I tell you, this was the hardest test I have ever taken in my life. And I am including my “comps” written for my Master’s. Aside from maybe that one geometry test I failed in high school, I have never had the feeling during a test that I wanted to simply get up and walk out, give up. This exam had me wracking my brain with critical thinking questions, doing some pretty convoluted math, and (frankly) wishing I had attended a better community college that would have educated me about many of the questions I simply knew nothing about. When I finished question 110 and a little hourglass icon appeared frozen on the screen, waiting to give me my result, I was wracked with anxiety.
And then it said, “Congratulations!”
And I was like…
To pass the exam, you need a score of 25. (The scoring is mysterious and makes no sense, by the way. I have no idea what 25 means.) I got a 31. I passed, and that’s all I care about!
So I am now, officially, a DTR. If you’re reading this as someone interested in beginning a career in nutrition, I’d love to chat. It’s been a long road, and I am so thankful to be an actual, bona fide nutritionist!