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Bringing Public Health to the Table

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“As a dietitian with a public health degree, I’m able to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in a way that can make a difference in the lives of many.”

KAITLIN REID (MPH ’16) ALWAYS PLANNED TO BECOME A DIETITIAN. But as much as she admired dietitians who worked with patients in hospitals and other clinical settings, she had a less traditional path in mind.

“I wanted to work on the prevention side,” Reid explains. “I am interested in giving people, from a young age, the tools to build a healthy lifestyle.”

While many dietitians pursue graduate degrees in nutritional sciences, Reid found the ideal fit for her interests at UCLA, where a partnership between the Fielding School and the VA (Veterans Affairs) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, established in 1969, provides students with an opportunity to earn an MPH while completing a dietetic internship at the VA. After completing their first year of studies in FSPH’s Department of Community Health Sciences, dual-track students spend the summer in supervised practice experiences at the VA. In autumn, they complete their accelerated MPH education, then return for the remainder of the academic year to their VA rotations, which include clinical, community and administrative settings.

“The MPH gives these students a broader skill set beyond the clinical nutrition physiology-based work they’ve previously done,” says Colleen Ross, the internship program’s director. “In one-on-one interactions with patients, these graduates are more likely to look at social and food-access issues that might be contributing to nutrition-related problems. And with the public health focus, they are well equipped to go on to nonclinical positions, including involvement in policy, program development and advocacy — roles that allow them to affect the larger population as opposed to individual patients.”

During her dietetic internship, Reid began working for UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, a university-wide wellness movement aiming to make UCLA the nation’s healthiest university campus. “I fell in love with the work UCLA is doing, on this campus and as a national influencer of the health of young people in collegiate settings,” Reid says, “and I let everyone know I wanted to stay.” She is now a health educator and registered dietitian nutritionist for the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center’s Office of Student Health Education and Promotion, involved in broad-ranging activities to promote wellness and healthy eating patterns on campus, including the development of a curriculum for a new teaching-kitchen collaborative and a peer-to-peer body image/ eating-disorder prevention program.

Reid has nothing but praise for the dietetic internship program, including the support she received from Ross and her FSPH faculty mentors, Drs. Michael Prelip and May Wang, as well as from Janet Leader, associate director of field studies in FSPH’s Department of Community Health Sciences. “There is so much more recognition now of the importance of food and a healthy diet for longevity, disease prevention and quality of life,” Reid says. “As a dietitian with a public health degree, I’m able to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in a way that can make a difference in the lives of many. This program put me in a position to get paid to do what I love.”