Ask an RD: Dani Russell
Hey, y’all! I’m starting a new series today called Ask an RD — I’ll be reaching out to registered dietitians who are already working in the field to get their perspective on nutrition, self-care and so much more.
Today, we have Dani Russell, MS, RDN. We first met doing improv comedy in college, which feels like a million years ago, and now she’s a practicing RD in Los Angeles. Below is a Q&A I bugged her to do for this blog. Enjoy!
Sami: When, and why, did you decide to become an RD? What about that field appealed to you and made you want to work in it?
DR: When I was a senior in high school. That's when we were asked to pick our major and that’s when I was being asked all the time by friends and family, "what are you majoring in? what are you going to study?"
I really didn't know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, at the time my mom was seeing an internist for health issues relating to stress, inflammation and hormone imbalances—including doing some hormone replacement. One of the big things she did—recommended by the doctor—was to take a really comprehensive food allergies test. (That's where they test your specific reactivity to this whole exhaustive list of foods.) Based on what foods pinged on that list, she completely changed her diet and experienced huge changes in how she felt physically, mentally and emotionally. She saw huge positive changes. And though there have been tweaks, she still eats that way today.
So because I was intrigued, I chose Nutrition as my major with kind of vague aspirations of becoming a "Nutritionist" but still not knowing the real different between a Dietitian and Nutritionist or even what kind of Nutritionist I wanted to be. It just happened that the University of Florida offered that major and thus offered baby Dani an answer to the question all those people were asking me.
S: What was the process of becoming an RD like?
DR: To become an RD (for me), I had to complete a bachelor degree with certain pre-requirements (also called a Didactic Program) in order to become eligible to submit to the match program for a Dietetic Internship; you can apply in the spring or in the fall, but spring is more common and thus more competitive to get into.
You had to complete a DI to be eligible to take the national board exam to become an RD. The match program sounds very ominous and scary and was spoken of very reverently and with great fear while I was in undergrad. I guess it’s kind of similar to med school? You put all your credentials; GPA; extracurricular experience; volunteer work; research; recommendation letters; your hopes and dreams; declare and rank your preference for your top three Dietetic Internship or MSDI (internship + Masters) program; and then offer it all up for scrutiny. Then you wait.
Then on match day, you find out if you matched or not and to which program. For me, a Masters degree was not yet required but you could get one anyway. I got matched to an MSDI in Birmingham, Alabama that was not my first choice that I actually initially turned down. For lots of reasons: $$$; not wanting to move to AL; but also biggest of all—fear. Like I matched, cried about matching, received an email from my Didactic Program coordinator at UF congratulating me on matching, responded that I wasn't going to accept, called Samford (the school) and told them I was declining, then received a panicked call from my coordinator basically detailing why one doesn't just turn down a match. It just isn't done. And she explained to me that unless I had a really good reason (a.k.a. death in the family; : financial distress like sudden homelessness or a real bad medical diagnosis) that declining would reflect very negatively on me if I ever decided to apply to the match program again.
With encouragement (and also some butt kicking) from her and my mom, I called the school back and said, very respectively and contritely, "JK."
My experience in the program was a whirlwind—it was extremely stressful and busy, I was extremely poor, I was very alone in a new city but I learned so so so much, and it was so so so rewarding.
S: What does your day-to-day work entail? How is it the same or different than you expected?
DR: I currently work in a dialysis clinic. Most of my day entails of talking to patients about their labs, what’s going on with their health, and what we can do with their diet and medications in order to assist in meeting health goals. Then documenting that in the EMR (electronic medical record). Lots of working with RNs and MDs.
That’s pretty uniform across the clinical sector—at the base of things, you're seeing patients and then documenting on it. Since in a DI you literally rotate through supervised practice in a variety of fields, my reality matches my expectation. However, there are so many types of RDs that the typical day varies greatly. Which I think is awesome.
S: Are there any nutrition myths or trends that you'd like to see disappear?
DR: celEry jUiCe *rolls eyes*
S: What are some, if any, misconceptions you think the general population has about nutrition?
DR: That there is a one-size-fits-all fix. There's just not. I feel like eating intuitively or paying enough attention to your body is in fact not intuitive to a lot of people and therefore scary and difficult. Instead, they'd just like to be told definitively, "don't eat this, don't eat that, eat this but only four times a week and on a Thursday and you will live forever and never gain weight." While there are general things that are typically universal across the human species—cause, you know, science—it’s much more complex than that.
S: Are there certain topics you find yourself explaining frequently to clients that you'd like other people to be aware of?
DR: Lots of patients ask about Keto. When What the Health came out, lots of my pregnant moms were asking if they could go vegan. (The answer to which is, if you are not already an experienced/veteran vegan at the time of/before pregnancy: NO.) You'll notice that those kind of questions follow all the nutrition "trends" at the time.
S: And finally, what was your favorite food as a kid? What's your favorite food now?
DR: It was spaghetti. Now, I'm real fond of anything cookies and brownies.