NutritionJobs Interviews Karen Reznik Dolins, EdD, RD, CSSD, CDN
By NICOLE BRITVAN, RD, CDE on MAY 1, 2011
So, you’ve just become a Registered Dietitian and you are interested in pursuing a career in sports nutrition but not exactly sure where to begin? Below describes one dietitian’s journey to becoming one of the experts in this field.
NutritionJobs: Dr. Karen Reznik Dolins, EdD, RD, CSSD, CDN, is a Lecturer at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, Sports Dietitian for Columbia University’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education, Nutrition Consultant to the New York Knicks, and guest lecturer for the WNBA, Cirque du Soleil, and Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon, can you tell us how you got to where you are?
Karen Dolins: I began working as an inpatient dietitian, which grounded me and gave me the clinical foundation that I needed to move forward. Once established, physicians began asking me if I would take private referrals. This was the beginning of my private practice and my specialization in cardiovascular nutrition, diabetes, and weight management. At about the same time I went to a talk on sports nutrition, by Marilyn Schorin, who was one of the founders of SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular and Nutrition practice group). I was so intrigued by her topic and the potential opportunities in sports nutrition that I started to develop a specialty in that area. I joined SCAN and began networking with like-minded RDs from around the country. This was back in the mid 1980s, when people first started calling themselves sports dietitians. I was able to meet and work with the movers and shakers in this field. It was through SCAN contacts that I got involved with the New York Knicks and went on to spend 10 years with them as their consulting sports dietitian. I eventually decided to pursue a doctoral degree at Columbia University. It was another SCAN member, renowned researcher Gail Butterfield, who mentored me through this project. She, along with Marilyn Schorin, were the people who really inspired me. Throughout my career I had been teaching at a variety of colleges. Once at Columbia, I proposed and developed a sports nutrition course and have been teaching it ever since 1998. I also suggested expanding the program and adding an experiential component and developed a partnership with Columbia intercollegiate athletics. I work with the athletes, teach my course and conduct a practicum for ten graduate students. I also take one dietetic intern, and sometimes, will take students for fieldwork.
Were most of these positions you interviewed for or did you create some along the way?
I really created most of the positions along the way.
You have worked with so many professional athletes, some of who include the New York Rangers, New York Knicks, US Tennis Association, and Cirque du Soleil. What steps did you take to get involved with the New York Knicks?
My networking with SCAN afforded me the chance to meet and work with these teams/athletes. I became chairperson of SCAN and during that time, we had a partnership with Gatorade. Gatorade would bring together a group of us as a sports nutrition advisory board. At the time, there were very few people working with professional athletes. I imagine it was being with this group that gave me the idea.
What unique skill sets or qualifications enabled you to be successful?
You certainly have to have vision. You can’t be a person who just focuses only on the task at hand. You have to be able to envision the possibilities. You have to be able to dream of what you want and then figure out a plan to make it come true. You have to have fortitude, and not expect things to happen immediately. For instance, it took a few years after my initial contact with the NY Knicks for my work to start happening with them. Let people know who you are. Also, be an active participant in your dietetic practice group.
What career mistakes have you made along the way?
Many, I’m sure. I’ll tell you that the most difficult thing for me is tooting my own horn. Marketing is not a strength of mine. As a result, I’ve lost out on some opportunities. I had one great opportunity that didn’t go anywhere. I think I was too nervous at the time and didn’t do enough receptive listening. I never got feedback, but my guess is that I could have been a better listener to the athletes, and been more sensitive to the fact that they were getting information from a wide variety of people and I perhaps could have been more open to being sensitive to that.
What is the most challenging part of your career?
As an educator and a clinician, it can be challenging to meet everyone’s needs. The students’ needs, the athletes’ needs, the coaches’ needs. These individuals are receiving information from many sources, so convincing them that you are providing great information can be challenging. It’s also a challenge working with weight management patients as they don’t always have the perseverance to overcome barriers to success. I find marketing myself to be a challenge as I don’t enjoy it but understand that it’s something I have to continually do.
What is the most rewarding part of your job/career?
Seeing the look on someone’s face and knowing that you’ve made a difference in their life. When I have someone look at me and smile. For example, I’m working with a female high school athlete, who was feeling guilty about eating. When I am able to validate her feelings and allow her to give herself permission to eat, she breaks out into a beautiful smile. Touching someone in a way that affects his or her life is most rewarding.
How do you balance the demands of your very active career while also being a wife and mom of three?
I have three kids and all three are special needs kids. In a sense, your kids always have to come first, so at times you may not be able to make work your first priority. I am fortunate that my husband works primarily from home and is able to do a lot of the day-to-day things. I couldn’t do it without such a supportive husband.
Have your professional memberships (for example, SCAN, ADA) played a role in your career successes?
Yes. Absolutely. I feel strongly that one should join professional practice group. You don’t live in a vacuum.
Do you feel your CSSD credential has opened up doors for you?
Right now, those with the CSSD credential are busy letting the rest of the world know what the credential means. More and more institutions are looking for the CSSD credential, so it is going to open up doors for future RDs. There’s no substitute for hands on experience to be prepared for the exam, as many questions are practical questions.
What are your predictions for future dietitians and nutrition professionals?
More and more colleges and universities are hiring sports dietitians to help out with their athletic teams. Given the number of colleges and universities in this country, I think that this will be a major area of growth for us. We have such a dynamic group of people working hard to establish this credential. People are going to recognize that getting their sports nutrition information from a reputable source is vital. The future is very, very exciting.
What advice do you have for others hoping to pave a new career path.
There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding in our field. There will always be a need for people who can translate the research and put it into context for the public. It’s critical that professionals in our field stay on top of the literature and are aware of messages delivered by the media. Our ability to combine research with practical guidance is what makes us valuable to our clients.