This Registered Dietitian Has a Passion for Improving People's Lives

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'You have to be a good listener and be able to develop a good rapport with people,' said registered dietician Cathy Shaw.
'You have to be a good listener and be able to develop a good rapport with people,' said registered dietician Catherine Shaw. (Credit: Courtesy Catherine Shaw)

Catherine Shaw is a registered dietitian and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management for the Medical Weight Management Program at WVU Medicine in Morgantown, West Virginia. "I wish I had known that being a registered dietitian was not a well-known profession," she said. "It has taken many years for people to really understand what RDs do and what role we play in our healthcare systems and our communities." 

Did you always know you wanted to be a registered dietitian?

I grew up in a family where food was a very integral part of our lives. I had a great interest in how nutrition played a role in our health, and how nutrition and food science could be applied to improve our food environment and our lifestyles. I knew that I wanted to study nutrition, but it took my college advisor to encourage me and put me on the path to becoming a registered dietitian, and am I ever glad she did!

(The dietetic technician role is a stepping stone to becoming a registered dietician.)

What does a typical day for a registered dietitian look like?

Currently, a typical day is seeing patients for nutritional counseling via telemedicine due to COVID-19. However, I hope to get back to working face-to-face in our outpatient clinic soon. When I am not speaking to patients, I am completing medical documentation, reading research, finding resources for patients, networking with colleagues, discussing patients and strategies with my weight management team and doing projects and advocacy work.

What do you like most about your job? And least?

I love working in a large academic medical center because we have such amazing resources and a great network of providers. I especially love working with my own medical team. I work with two physicians who are board-certified in obesity medicine, a great physician assistant, and an RN coordinator, and we partner with bariatric psychologists and exercise professionals as well. Obesity is a very complex chronic issue that requires a team approach to care, and it is wonderful having this team at my side. What I like least about my job is probably the paperwork! But medical documentation must be done, so there is no way to get around that.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

There are quite a few common misconceptions about being a registered dietitian. One is that we are the cooks in the hospital kitchen. (Believe me, you don’t want me in there doing that!) Another is that we always put people on strict diets, give out menus, and that we are the "food police" and take away your favorite foods. Registered dietitians play many different roles and have multiple career paths. We work in hospitals and institutions, but also in retail restaurant management, higher education, research, sports/athletics, public health, community nutrition, and private practice – just to name a few. We also have multiple specialty areas of practice, much like other healthcare professionals. That is why I am a certified specialist in obesity and weight management.

What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

To work in outpatient care like I do, I think you must be outgoing and have a caring and positive personality. You have to be a good listener and be able to develop a good rapport with people. You also need to be able to express empathy and understanding about the human condition.

Is there a time when you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

I feel this happens quite frequently! When we work so closely with patients on skills to help facilitate lifestyle change, they are so appreciative when they start feeling better, moving better and are able to enjoy their lives more.

Why would you recommend that someone go into this line of work?

I would recommend becoming a registered dietitian because the opportunities within the profession are so diverse and growing by leaps and bounds. Nutrition and foods touch every single human in some way, every day. Registered dietitians are the experts in food and nutrition science and are the ones who can competently translate that science into everyday recommendations and interventions that positively impact the health of the people we serve.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I know this is strange, but I would be an environmental scientist or a geologist. I love rocks and soils and how the science of the earth impacts our lives.

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