The same message is circulating amongst fellow registered dietitians to be.
“Provide quality, evidence-based nutrition advice that will genuinely help people live a better, healthier life.”
Thanks to encouragement from current registered dietitians in the field, many dietetic students, including me, are writing about nutrition online. But there is still the looming question:
“Am I really qualified to writing content for others?”.
The answer is yes, and this post overviews what I learned from my experience as a new dietetic student.
We are Our Biggest Challenge
The feeling of “am I really able to do this?” is one I’ve experienced recently in a volunteer position I started. Because I live abroad, and Covid-19 has made the future uncertain, I wanted to volunteer remotely. So, I emailed an NGO to ask if they had any opportunities available, and it turns out they wanted someone to write for their blog and help make educational content.
I have been in education for the past 7 years, so I felt confident to help out with the educational material, but once I sat down to write that first blog post, I stopped. That question of “am I really qualified to do this?” came into my head and gave me pause. The NGO works with underserved communities to raise health literacy, and I felt the weight of responsibility.
People would read what I wrote. And follow it. Can I really be giving nutrition advice that might alter someone’s life?
That feeling, for me, is self-imposed. I notice I do it in my current career in the English as a second/foreign language field.
I, after 7 years of experience and with a master’s degree, sometimes feel like I’m not good enough to do things like train other teachers or write a book. Because who am I to decide I could do this?
Now, this feeling is an emotional reaction, not a rational one, and luckily, I’ve learned to recognize this. This feeling is one many can relate to and it comes with a name.
Basically, we feel like a fraud even if aren’t.
A big part experiencing imposter syndrome, in my opinion, is struggling with self-validation. We want someone or something external to give us the “green light” on talking about nutrition with any kind of authority.
Students in the medical field are prone to feeling this because of the impact our opinions, knowledge and actions have on people. We get excited to help people, but we also know that we can do damage. People will look to us as experts, and I think that makes us feel like we need to be an expert before we can even start having a voice.
Or, as dietetic students, we see the ever-growing community of self-proclaimed nutritionists who support fad diets or unhealthy eating behaviors, and we feel that if we are experts, people will be more willing to actually listen to us.
So, it’s common see dietetic students feel that they shouldn’t talk about nutrition until they have that registered dietitian status or the “RD” behind their name.
Having been a student before, being actively in the field of education now and dabbling in various hobbies, I’ve come to the following conclusions on formal education and qualifications:
- School gives us a great foundation because qualified people have set standards for the content we learn and they’ve checked the relevance and reliability of the material for us.
- A lot of the knowledge we retain comes from repeated practice and experience. Schools are just one way to achieve this.
- You really can learn just about anything on your own if you put in the time and practice.
What does that mean? It means you can talk about nutrition without having the “RD” officially stamped behind your name.
Dietetic Students Care About Quality
I’ve met some “nutritionists” and “life coaches” who make me understand why the general public doesn’t value dietitians and therapists.
We know there are a bunch of people out there today giving all sorts of questionable nutrition advice. This is why we, as dietetic students, care so much at sharing quality information. And because we care, we are willing to do the research to ensure that what we share is indeed quality information supported by well-researched evidence.
In facts, students sometimes care more than people with experience. But, at times, we can care a little too much, and this prevents us from writing or creating content about nutrition because we think “we aren’t ready”.
You’ve probably met some people in your life that make you question how they are employable. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need to research anymore” when you have a bit of experience and quality can slip. Students, on the other hand, know they have something to prove and take quality seriously.
We Know Our Limits
Just because we are willing to put in the time and energy to research something doesn’t mean we think we can talk about it all with complete authority.
As students, I think we are very aware of our limits. As non-traditional students, we’re a bit more fortunate because we’ve likely had experiences that have made us very aware of our limits, but also shown us our potential.
So, I feel students are willing to assess what tasks they are capable of with a bit of confidence while knowing when confidence just isn’t enough.
The article I wrote for my volunteer position was on how to have a balanced meal; a very basic, general topic in the nutrition field. I know that I am at a level to speak on this topic, and I know how to research and choose quality information to support my position and present a coherent piece of writing.
However, if someone were to ask me to write a detailed plan on how to definitively manage and treat a medical condition through nutrition, I know that I’m not ready to write that kind of article. I would not feel comfortable publishing content like that because I don’t have enough specific knowledge.
There are a lot of “nutritionists” and “nutrition gurus” out there who do not have the qualifications or experience to be talking about the same issues, and yet, they do. This is why, as I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I didn’t really take “nutritionists” seriously and I scoffed at the idea of getting into nutrition as a career at first.
Reflecting on the mentality I had, I feel silly to have thought that way considering I get the same reaction working in ESL. People think that all ESL teachers are just kids on a gap year, and just because someone is a native speaker, they can teach English.
Dedicated professionals and professionals-to-be will be aware of their capabilities. You should try tasks you’ve never done before with a healthy understanding of when that project isn’t for you.
“Am I ready to do this?” is sometimes just a question that is stopping you from pursing something. Self-doubt is normal, especially when getting into a new field of study, but it can get in the way of our success. As a student, you know how to research and assess the credibility of a source.You know how to present information in an objective and coherent way. Don’t masquerade as a nutrition expert, but know that there are indeed a range of topics you can talk about and your status as a student shouldn’t stop you from writing content about nutrition. Know your limitations while recognizing your potential.