An Interview with Natalie L Ledesma, MS, RD, CSO
By NUTRITIONJOBS on SEPTEMBER 1, 2008
You’ll be surprised to learn who mentors her. Read on…
NutritionJobs: As a Registered Dietitian you have a unique educational background. How has this influenced your ability to provide nutrition counseling?
Ms Ledesma: I have a BA in Psychology but also went for a Master’s in Nutrition and launched a career as a sports nutritionist before settling in as an oncology dietitian. Working with the WHEL study proved to be a pivotal point in my career. I found my passion working with oncology patients. My background in Psychology helps with one-on-one nutrition counseling. You have currently integrated several different positions to create an impressive career as a well respected RD in San Francisco.
You are an oncology dietitian for the University of California San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and for Smith Ingegrative Oncology, a Cancer Nutrition Consultant for Revolution Health Group and an Oncology Dietitian for Digestive Care, Inc. In addition to all that you have a toddler and are 8 months pregnant. What motivates you to embrace each day?
Ms Ledesma: I love the diversity I have created in my career. I just can’t pass up a great opportunity! I usually adapt other positions to make it all fit. I truly enjoy everything that I’m doing. Each position utilizes a different skill set, which is important so that I continue to learn, grow, and not get burned out with just one primary task.
Did you interview for all those positions or did you create some along the way?
Several of the positions truly landed in my lap. Others I created together with a department head. I saw a need and created the job. Some jobs were created just for me. This is the value of networking and knowing key decision makers.
Many dietitians speak about a mentor that helped guide their career.
Honestly my mentors have been my oncology patients. I have learned so much from them. I feel very passionate about my work. Are there any RD footsteps you have followed? Surprisingly, none of the positions I currently hold have been previously staffed by an RD. I haven’t had many footsteps to follow, at least not yet.
What unique qualifications helped you be successful in your career?
The most important factor for any dietitian is knowing the technical information. For me that is knowing oncology well. And knowing how to counsel my patients. I’m also very task-oriented and achievement-oriented. I have the passion and drive to make my career a success. But what I bring to the table that may be perceived as unique is how well I connect with my patients and cancer survivors. I really care for them deeply. It influences my success.
Your resume highlights your many volunteer engagements. How do you balance your time spent volunteering and time spent earning a living as an RD?
It’s certainly a delicate balance. But early on in my career I saw that any amount of volunteer experience was essential, especially if I wanted to seek out other opportunities. Volunteering also allows me to test a variety of areas in which to practice nutrition.
Writing is also one of your passions. You have been a lead author on one paper and co-author on 5 other research papers. You also are a contributing author for about 10 books and publications.
Yes! Writing offers another opportunity to learn and grow. I am currently co-writing a cookbook for breast and gynecological cancer survivors. I recently wrote a chapter on diet and prostate cancer that is in press.
What are your predictions for future dietitians and nutrition professionals?
I see a growth in complementary care that involves nutrition. I also see that dietitians will become much more specialized (e.g., diabetes, oncology) rather than just versed in general nutrition practice. I also hope to see a growth in insurance compensation for nutrition services, directly or indirectly.