This post is part of the "Dear Undergrad Aly" section of my blog. The "Dear Undergrad Aly" series is a collection of posts on things I wish I knew before becoming a dietitian, and hopefully are relevant to your journey to becoming a nutrition professional...think of them as "not-so-sappy" but informative love letters to my past self.
One of the most common questions I get asked as a MHSc Nutrition Communication graduate and dietitian from undergraduate students is what my experience was like in the program.
And to be completely honest....I can only say amazing things about it!
This program ignited my zest for nutrition, allowed me to flourish as a student, and build confidence to take my knowledge and apply it into my practicum. I absolutely loved my experience in the program and I am excited to share with you just why!
Self-Directed Learning and The Space for Creativity
When I first began the program in September 2018, I was really caught off guard by the amount of autonomy I had in designing my projects and assignments. I think, similarly, for many of my peers, this was a huge learning curve...especially coming from undergrad where assignment instructions and rubrics were often just as long as the assignment itself (haha).
But this autonomy allowed me to explore areas of dietetics that I was passionate about, take ownership of my work, and bring back the creative side of me that I had been yearning for!
This freedom allowed me to develop presentations and write assignments that probably wouldn’t have flown in a traditional Master’s program...like presenting my health behaviour change as a bedtime nursery rhyme or basing my knowledge translation presentation on my favourite TV show, The Office, (can't miss out on an opportunity to represent Michael Scott). *The delivery of the presentation was relevant to the presentation topic - I swear!!
The Amazing Team of Professors and Staff Members in the MHSc Program
The MHSc Nutrition Communication program comes with an arsenal of top-notch talent. From our professors, to our practicum coordinator Megan, to our wonderful, always smiling, program administrator Amber, I can honestly say that I always felt well supported and in good hands!
Being able to explore new ideas and push the limits of academia were always welcomed with open arms by our professors.
We were encouraged to take our assignments and projects beyond the classroom and showcase them in competitions, on social media, and with future preceptors.
This encouragement led me to be able to experience the Canadian Nutrition Society’s National Conference with some of my fellow classmates, as we took our Nutrition Communication Strategies’s infographic assignments to the next level!
Likewise, if we were ever feeling in a rut, needed extra time or assistance with our assignments, or were struggling with a placement, we were always able to go to our professors and practicum coordinator for guidance.
Unlike undergrad, where the professor-student relationship can feel impersonal and sometimes intimidating, we were able to build solid relationships with our professors and move forward as colleagues.
Beyond Theoretical Learning
When we think of what it takes to be a good dietitian, we often jump to the conclusion that you have to be very knowledgeable. Although knowing the ins and outs of nutrition is important, there are definitely more skills that make up the bread and butter of a dietitian.
I’m talking about empathy, the power of listening, the importance of self-care and self-compassion as a healthcare professional, and the ability to adopt a growth mindset.
And although these may seem like innate skills that dietetic students come armed with, they truly are the foundation of dietetic practice.
In the MHSc program, these skills were often prioritized, as we would spend time in our Nutrition Communication Seminar being led through mindful meditations and lessons on self-care, self-compassion, and the growth mindset.
I am very grateful that we spent time during our coursework on these topics as they became my valuable “back pocket tools” during placements.
It is easy to feel burnt out as a dietetic intern. You are constantly learning and relearning new techniques and concepts, and sometimes exchange very serious conversations with patients about their health or personal life.
But in order for me to be present and succeed in my placements, I had to prioritize self-care, (something I previously brushed off as not being "that important" during undergrad).
As the saying goes, in order to provide compassionate care for others, you have to start with compassionate care for yourself.
Monthly Professional Development Days
When completing our practicum, we often had monthly professional development days. During these days, we would spend the first half discussing the highs and lows of our placements, and then shift gears in the afternoon with a presentation from an expert dietitian on timely topics like diabetes, and enteral and parenteral nutrition.
What I would soon learn from starting placements is that practicum can sometimes feel isolating. But having these monthly check-ins provided me with the reassurance that I wasn’t alone.
When we provided our placement updates to the class, it was often therapeutic. There were so many aha moments of “you experienced that? I experienced that!” which organically led to problem-solving and brainstorming sessions, and resource sharing.
It was a kind reminder that even though we were dispersed across the province, we were all in the same boat. And with the guidance of Megan, our practicum coordinator, we were able to overcome our challenges and celebrate our triumphs as a class!
The Toronto Metropolitan University's MHSc Nutrition Communication program is more than just a program to obtain the competencies for you to write the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam...you’ll experience self-growth like no other, and make lifelong friends along the way.
I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to complete my masters and practicum experience at Toronto Metropolitan University and proud to call myself an alumna!
I’m always willing to dish out more about the MHSc Nutrition Communication program. If you ever have a question about my experience or the program, feel free to direct message me on Instagram (@thezestyrd).