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Dietetic internship is food for the soul for this HT graduate
Feb. 21, 2011

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – Appearing on a KARE 11 television segment about school nutrition for the St. Paul School District was one of the easier assignments Winsted native Jenny Dahl has had since her 10-month dietetic internship began at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview Aug. 31, 2010.

Her goal at the St. Paul nutrition center was to come up with two recipes for low fat breakfast breads.

School nutrition is just one of several week-long rotations that have been part of Dahl’s internship.

Dahl, who received her bachelor of arts degree in nutrition with a concentration in dietetics from the College of St. Benedict in 2010, has known she wanted to be a dietitian since she was in high school.

Even in a 2006 Holy Trinity Rouser newsletter, she listed dietetics as her future career choice.

“I was originally interested in the psychology behind it (nutrition) and helping people with eating disorders or weight loss,” Dahl said. “But I have also been interested in food. I love to cook and to bake.”

Dahl is one of only 10 interns accepted into the Fairview program which has meant long workdays and, in addition, approximately 30 hours of homework a week.

But Dahl wouldn’t trade a minute of it because she appreciates the education she has already received in the last five months.

The Fairview internship program, which is one of the oldest in the country, includes a curriculum of medical nutrition therapy, food and nutrition management, and community nutrition.

“I chose Fairview because quite honestly, it is just an incredibly intense, good program and it had a medical concentration,” Dahl said. “It is important to know the complicated medical background of nutrition in order to understand why certain things need to happen . . . So, if I understand what happens to patients with celiac disease if they eat gluten, and then manage a kitchen somewhere, I understand the importance of making sure there is no cross-contamination.”

Working with real people and in real situations, Dahl works under a registered dietitian.

For the St. Paul Public School Nutrition Center on Como Avenue, Dahl and her classmate were able to come up with two recipes for breakfast bread that were lower in fat, well within the new government guidelines, by using unsweetened applesauce and yogurt, according to Dahl.

The applesauce and yogurt provide moisture without adding fat.

“There are a lot of really neat tricks to replace fat; even spinach can be used for moisture,” Dahl said.

“We also developed a low-fat substitution guideline for them, which can be as simple as switching out one whole egg for two egg whites which decreases five grams of fat per egg,” Dahl said.

The largest part of Dahl’s internship is in medical nutrition therapy, where she works with doctors who prescribe diets for patients with special health needs. Some examples are patients diagnosed with diabetes, kidney failure, or heart failure, or with someone who has had major surgery, a bone marrow transplant, or a solid organ transplants.

Dahl counsels each of them on what kind of nutrition is needed in their diet based on evidence-based practice, according to Dahl.

“Everything that we do or recommend is supported by literature, peer review, or journal-published information that has shown doing these things decreases the patient’s risk factors,” Dahl said.

Before she presents her diet plan, Dahl reviews notes on each patient from the doctors and staff, she learns what the patient’s eating habits were before coming to the hospital, and then how much the patient is eating currently. Also, the patient’s ability to move around and exercise.

The hardest part of Dahl’s job is when her patients won’t listen to her.

“You want people to succeed. It’s a big part of what I am trying to do,” Dahl said.

“Nothing is more frustrating than walking into a patient’s room and knowing they just don’t care,” Dahl said. “They have lied straight to my face and told me they are eating oatmeal every morning and celery sticks for snacks.

“It kills me because I care. I understand that change is hard. This whole mindset is that, ‘I can’t deprive myself of that.’”

After studying nutrition for almost five years, Dahl said her eating habits really haven’t changed that much.

“But I am more mindful about my eating. I think about why I am eating and how much,” Dahl said.

“A lot of gaining weight is in portion sizes. So I ask, ‘am I eating because I have this big plate full of food, or because I am still hungry?’”

With five months left of Dahl’s internship, she still hasn’t decided which dietetic field she would like to specialize in.

Todate, her oncology rotation has had the greatest impact on her – mostly because the patients listen to her and they want to do whatever they have to, to get well.

When her internship ends, she will receive a formal internship verification statement from Fairview.

She will then take the state exam to become a registered/licensed dietitian.

“And there are so many fields a dietician can go into . . . so many possibilities,” Dahl said.

Dahl is the daughter of Tim and Fran Dahl of Winsted.

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