Nutritionist / Businesswoman
Cece Davis Gifford
Cece is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian, the owner and founder of Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa and is one of only three Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics in Oklahoma. She is a recognized leader in her profession and has served in executive positions in both state and national dietetic associations. Cece has written many articles on diet and nutrition for magazines and newspapers and is the author of the book “ Nutrition for People Who Sit All Day” where she discusses the health consequences of prolonged sitting and offers nutritional guidance to help minimize those health problems.
Cece points out in her article that being a registered dietitian involves much more than just helping people manage their weight. A registered dietitian, (RD), is the only qualified healthcare professional to teach nutrition and is part of a team of medical professionals including doctors, nurses, therapists and caregivers working together to develop a customized approach for each individual patient. A registered dietitian differs from someone using the title nutritionist. The later does not have to have a degree in nutrition from a university. A RD uses a scientific approach to develop these diet programs based on information gathered from things like physical exams and blood tests just like other medical professionals.
While being a registered dietitian is a career that only requires a four-year college degree in nutritional science, Cece points out that about eighty percent of people in the profession now go on to graduate school and receive a master’s degree. There are also state and federal certifications you must complete to be able to practice as well as certifications in specialty areas like diabetes and sports nutrition you can get to broaden your professional credentials.
Cece’s article will be helpful to anyone considering a career in the healthcare field who would like to learn more about this particular specialty. It will also be of interest to anyone who wants to better understand the approach a dietitian uses to develop effective dietary programs for their patients as well as people who want to learn more about what is involved in managing a private practice.
My parents both had college degrees and valued education. They encouraged me to work hard in grade and high school and to go on to college. I went to the University of Oklahoma and started in the physical therapy program. But I took a class on nutrition my first year and decided to switch majors and get a Bachelors of Science in Clinical Dietetics. The nutritional science program includes a lot of the same kinds of classes that are required for nurses and students in a premed program like organic and inorganic chemistry, anatomy, microbiology and physiology. Few people in the field went on to get a master’s degree at the time I graduated with my BS degree in 1976. But medical science has advanced and the role of food in preventing and treating illnesses like diabetes and heart disease is now well known. As a result of this increased knowledge about the importance of nutrition to overall health, there is a growing demand for highly qualified people and about eighty percent of registered dietitians now go on and get master’s degrees.
Before I could get a job and work with patients, I also needed my national and state certifications. The national certification is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). The state certification is licensed dietitian (LD). Here are the requirements you need to meet for the national designation:
- A bachelor’s degree at a US accredited university or college where the course work is approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
- You must complete an ACEND supervised practice program at an approved facility. This was combined with my college program and ran about six months.
- You must also pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- In order to maintain your certification, every five years you have to take seventy-five hours of continuing education.
In order to receive the state designation in Oklahoma, you have to pass an examination given by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licenses. When you complete both certifications, you will have the RDN and LD designations behind your name.
My first job after I got my degree and certifications was as a clinical dietitian at St. Francis Hospital. This gave me experience working as part of a healthcare team with the doctors and nurses at the hospital developing dietary programs for individual patients. I had been there for four years when a doctor told me that I should go into private practice and get out into the community. That way I could help patients so they wouldn’t end up in our hospital where we were treating them for things like heart disease that were preventable with good diet and exercise. I had three young children at the time and private practice was also appealing because I could set my own hours. When my children were young, I needed flexibility with my work hours. As they grew older, I began to work more hours and grew my practice.
Marketing my company’s services is important just like it is for any other business. I have gotten my name out in part by writing articles for magazines and newspapers and doing presentations. I was also involved in national organizations where I gave workshops teaching other dietitians how to open a practice in their area. Another way I brought in business was by building relationships with doctors, clinics, therapist, and nurses where I worked with them on individual nutrition programs customized for their patients. I now have a referral network of over one hundred and fifty doctors.
Some of the services we offer our patients include:
Wellness and disease prevention
Heart disease and high cholesterol
High blood pressure
Diabetes and pre-diabetes
I also have a number of patients who work at jobs where they have to sit all day. One example would be people who worked in call centers and sit for up to twelve hours. Besides counseling them individually, I published a book to help these people called “Nutrition for People Who Sit All Day” where I talk about the health consequences of prolonged sitting and offer ways you can use diet to help minimize problems that result from prolonged sitting like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
I earned an additional designation as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and am one of only three people in the state with this designation. I have been the dietitian for the University of Tulsa’s Men’s basketball team where I worked with the coaches and individual players. I also work with high school coaches so they can educate their players on proper diet and nutrition.
My company also has experience helping corporations with their wellness programs where we design and develop healthy eating programs for their employees.
As an independent practitioner, you can see that you must have a full range of business skills. You have to be constantly looking for ways to market your services to maintain and expand your business
You also have to be able to manage people. As my practice grew, I began to hire other dietitians with at least three years of clinical experience and now have between three and five dietitians on my staff depending on the level of activity in our various programs.
I enjoy the interaction with my patients and knowing that I can often make a difference in people’s lives. Here are a couple examples of patients I have worked with recently:
I had a patient come to me who weighed three hundred and twenty pounds. She was in therapy because she had been molested as a child and later raped when she was older. Her therapist determined her overeating was a protective behavior tied to these incidents where she though if she were overweight she would be unattractive and not be sexually abused again. I helped her develop a diet program and expect that working with her therapist we will be able to change her destructive eating habits and follow a nutritional program that will get her to a healthy weight.
I had a young high school boy come to me who was a wrestler and had just finished his season. He was five feet nine inches and weighed one hundred and twenty nine pounds. He wanted to put on some muscle and was not having much success even though he was spending a lot of time in the weight room. I took body fat measurements and saw that he had less than five percent body fat. I also reviewed his diet with him and his father and determined that the young man was only eating about one thousand calories a day. I increased his caloric intake to three thousand calories and focused on better timing of meals and snacks while having him maintain a balanced diet that is helping him reach his goals.
How To Prepare to Become a Nutritionist
When you are in high school, take all the science classes you can especially chemistry, physiology and biology. Some college prep schools also offer microbiology.
- Tulsa Community College offers a two-year university transfer degree program in nutritional science. Spending a couple years at TCC is a good way to help hold down your college expenses. Plus, if you are a resident of Tulsa County and qualify for the Tulsa Achieves program, your tuition is free.
- There are two career tracts you can take as a registered dietitian. The first is a management track where you are working in meal planning and food preparation for institutions like hospitals, restaurants and nursing homes. This program is taught at the Oklahoma State University where there is some overlap with their hospitality and food services program. The second tract is a clinical tract working with individual patients like I do. This kind of program is usually taught at schools with large medical science centers like the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center where I attended.
- I would advise anyone who wants to become a registered dietitian to get a Master’s degree. About 80% of nutritionists now have one. You will not be as competitive without it.
- Besides the basic national and state certifications of RDN and LD, you can get other certifications like the one I have for sports (CSSN) as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). Diabetes is a real problem because of the increasing incidence of obesity and all the sugar in soda and processed food. You can also get special certifications in pediatric and renal nutrition. Leaning more about these fields and receiving these other designations will help you build your business.
- I don’t hire anyone for my private practice unless they have had a minimum of three years of clinical experience. You should start your career in this kind of clinical setting where you learn to work as a team with other medical professionals before you consider private practice.
Being a registered dietitian is a career that I have enjoyed because of the interaction with individual patients and the way I get to work with other health care professionals like doctors, nurses and therapists where together we develop a customized nutritional program for my patients. I also like the fact a good registered dietitian’s practice is based on science. We do thorough patient assessments to get the data we need to develop specific diet and nutritional recommendations for each patient. This is also a medical career where you can go into private practice and build your own business rather than being limited to a salary. A registered dietitian is a career I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in health care, nutrition, is good at science and likes to work with patients and other health care professionals.
Here is a link to Cece’s company website: http://nutritiontulsa.com where you can learn more about her practice.
US Depart of Labor Salary Statistics for Registered Dietitians
The median annual wage for dietitians was $56,950 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,040, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,840.
In May 2014, the median annual wages for dietitians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Outpatient Care Centers $61,210
Nursing and Residential Care $56,510
Accommodation and Food Services $54, 970
Employment of dietitians is projected to grow 16 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The role of food in preventing and treating illnesses, such as diabetes, is now well known. More dietitians will be needed to provide care for patients with various medical conditions and to advise people who want to improve their overall health.