SENIOR MANAGER, HEALTH & NUTRITION
GENERAL MILLS CANADA
for something nutrishus
I am very pleased to feature Pierrette. She was happy to contribute, but aware that people are often suspicious of her since she works in the food industry (which I completely understand, as I work with commodity groups and brands too). This reminded me of a Practice Blog post from last year on embracing the role of industry dietitians. I know where she's coming from in terms of trying to explain the broad scope of what she does - another reason I started this series, and I love how she answered the future focused question, so much good insight below - enjoy!
Why did you become a RD?
Honestly, being a dietitian wasn't on my radar through most of university - I was going to be a surgeon and join Medecins sans frontières. If I knew what a dietitian was, my understanding was limited to the clinical, in-patient area. I chose nutrition as my area of study because it was an amazing applied combination of biochemistry and physiology, both of which I loved. When I realized medical school was not going to work out for me, I was lucky to be in a U of T undergrad course taught by Dr. Magda Krondl entitled "Sociocultural Aspects of Nutrition", and I was fascinated. She opened my eyes to a broader world of dietetic practice that caught my interest and helped set my direction.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
I have always worked in population health and health promotion, although my approach to it has changed with my different roles.
How would you explain what you do?
The mission-statement/elevator speech evaded me for a long time because the scope of my area is quite broad, but lately I would sum it up by saying: I work to improve health through food for as many people as possible.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
One of the more exciting (sometimes frustrating!) things about my work is that one week can vary markedly from the next. Some weeks I address the theoretical, when I’m involved in health policy development, or the design and interpretation of research for policy development or for population education. Some weeks I’m more involved in communication to my peers – my business peers to help them understand the science, or my health professional peers, to share the insights I have from the global research and business communities in which I work. Some weeks I’m deeply involved in the more applied areas of crafting (hopefully effective!) health communication messaging to the public or providing nutrition-based guidance on the plans for specific food product development.
What has been your career path?
I began my career in a public health department, and I have worked in public health, research, non-profit organizations and food industry.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
In addition to the undergrad requirements for dietetics, I also completed a Master’s degree in health policy & communication. To be fair, this sometimes feels like it’s not enough, for some good and not-so-good reasons. On the good reasons side, I feel that business or law education could help me be more effective at some of what I do. On the not-so-good side, I feel that a PhD (as specialized as it is) is becoming a more important credential for legitimacy in the areas I play. This is unfortunate because it appears to be less based on what the education offers to your perspective and capability, and more a way to screen “qualified” candidates.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
I wish I could be more optimistic, but I don’t think a lot can change in our sphere in the next 5 years – 5 years is not long enough for the kind of systemic change I believe we need. So my 5-year ideal would be that as a global society we are making meaningful progress toward: responsible communication of research results to consumers; appreciation by the general public that good health is a beneficial tool, not a higher-order virtue; and a perception of dietitians as important enablers of personal and population nutrition goals. An important key to success will be improved collaboration among dietitians, including active support of one another in a professional sense, even those of us in less traditional dietetic roles. (This blog is a fantastic piece of that puzzle!)
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
Honestly, the challenge I find the most difficult is internal to our profession. Some of our colleagues question the ethics and professionalism of those of us who work in/with the food industry. I hope we can reduce the barriers between us to see how our work can be important in various segments of society. It has never been more important that our peers remain active in the food industry, and it can be incredibly rewarding when a dietitian brings unexpected allies together to make healthful things happen for the millions of Canadians who shop for packaged food every day. Yet, many days it is a thankless task to stand up for what we believe is right, in the face of both our professional group and our workplace.
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
I love food and I love learning and I’m a very social person – I am so grateful that I have a profession that allows me to engage in all of that, every day!
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Practice applied curiosity. It takes humility to admit you need to learn something new, or re-learn something old that has changed, or take instruction from someone who is not your peer or superior, but it demonstrates admirable professional integrity.
More about Pierrette:
LinkedIn: Pierrette Buklis