Touched My Heart, Touched My Mind

Dietetic Internship, Community Nutrition Rotation
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 
Massachusetts State WIC Program
November 2nd-20th, 2009

Massachusetts WIC handout: Introducing Vegetables
Just finished up my fifth rotation of the dietetic internship.  Three weeks of community nutrition, and I loved every day!  Ok fine, I wasn't jumping up and down every single second--but this experience was stimulating and very instructive.

So, what is WIC?  WIC is a federally funded nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC) that started in 1974.  WIC primarily offers nutrition education, checks to buy food, and referals for medical care.  And who is WIC for?  WIC is for children under 5 years old, women (from prenatal to postpartum), breastfeeding women, or families under a certain income level.   In undergraduate classes, WIC was presented with a reverant aura of respect.  I learned that it is an established, powerful, and effective community nutrition program.  But coming to the MA Department of Public Health WIC office, I got to see the behind-the-scenes management at the state level.  I learned about WIC's nutrition education initiatives within Massachusetts, and I learned a lot about myself too!

MA WIC Handout: Breastfeed For A Full Year.
What did I do for 3 weeks?
1. Visited 2 local WIC programs (East Boston and Somerville)
2. Assisted with the Mass in Motion Blog.  This is a nutrition education piece with the MA State Department of Public Health.
3. Researched nutrition information to update WIC's Pregnancy Guide
4. Helped write the December WIC Nutrition Buzz, on the Mix 104.1 local radio network
5. Attended WIC training, staff meetings, WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator meeting, webinars, and teleconferences.

MA WIC Handout: Infant feeding 0-6 Months.
What did I learn?
I learned all about WIC!  
WIC is huge.  It's BIG!  It's national.  (I had heard some crazy statistic, saying that 60% of dietitians or something in America work for WIC.  Now I might believe this.)  And the Massachusetts WIC has money to work with (from both the federal and state government).  The big bucks make such a difference in community nutrition.  You can offer many more services to your clients,  and continuing education to your staff.  This challenged my view of community nutrition, which had been limited to small programs with limited funds.

I learned that WIC has a new food package!  Since October 1, 2009 WIC programs across the country are now offering checks redeemable for fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains (bread, tortillas, or brown rice), whole grain cereals, canned fish, and even baby food.
I learned about nutrition counseling.  
I never took a counseling class in undergrad, so this was great.  The Massachusetts WIC office discovered that emotion-based counseling is more effective in changing behavior than instructional counseling.  The state office has developed a nutrition education curriculem called Touching Hearts Touching Minds (THTM).  THTM has 33 handouts, and I've included my favorites here.  I learned about participant-centered counseling through the WIC Framingham training day.  This profoundly affected me.  There I learned that the most important thing is to listen to your client.  As a nutrition professional, can I be a good listener?
I learned about myself.
This rotation changed my view of public health nutrition.  During these 3 weeks, I relished my independence.  I came into the office each morning with a purpose.  As I walked up the stairs (or rode the elevator) I  could visualize the small stack of papers waiting on my desk.  I liked the feeling of accomplishment when I could finish a project and give it to my preceptor.   I liked the challenge of finding the latest information on nutrition topics and writing about them.  This was quite hard, and I need to get better at researching.  With so much nutrition information out there, it is hard to narrow down the current and relevant information.  I am learning how to collaborate with clients, peers, and authorities.

MA WIC Handout: Infant Feeding 6-8 months.
What did I like about this 3-week rotation?
State job.  You can leave at 4 or 4:30pm.  I loved this rotation, because I didn't need to bring any work home on the nights.  Good thing, since school is getting more crazy at the end of the semester.  Made for early 7:30-8am mornings though.  I liked the work atmosphere in the state office.  Great nutritionists there.
At the state office, people are working on projects that they know will make a difference.  Their nutrition education materials and policies will benefit many people.
At the local WIC programs, I like the busy atmosphere.  Between scheduled appointments and walk-ins, the pace was fast.

What did I not like about this 3-week rotation?
Although I am thankful for my brief visits to the local WIC programs, I am not sure if I would like working at a local WIC program.  The nutrition education is repetitive.  Also it is hard to develop a quality conversation with the participants due to lack of time, disinterest of the participant, or both.  The nutrition education at the local sites required less critical thinking skills and more personal counseling skills.  I need to work on both of those skill sets.  
This is whiny...but I didn't like sitting at a cubicle in the state office.  Tap, tap, tap at the computer all day. 

Could I see myself working in this type of position?
Yes.  I think I like researching and writing nutrition information for education materials.
If so, what skills would I need to learn?
Research skills.  Writing skills.  Counseling skills.  Managing skills.  Microsoft excel skills.  I wish I got better at excel in undergrad!  *hint for any dietetics students who might read this*

MA WIC Handout: Healthy Snack Ideas
*aren't these handouts pretty awesome?*


Peggy said...

Wow... learned more about WIC here than I think I ever have. Interesting!

alivaux said...

Welcome to the wonderful love affair with community nutrition!! I am writing a health ed program right now and I love it!!! :) Miss you!! We have got to get together soon!!!

Rachel said...

Thanks Peggy, thanks Alison!

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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