Dietetic Career Spotlight on Fatinah Darwish, Department of Public Health
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on JULY 28, 2015
I originally met Fatinah Darwish, MPH, RD, at a Public Policy Workshop in Washington, D.C., where we learned how to be advocates for our industry and meet with our State Representatives and Congressmen. The 3-day workshop was full of networking. Fatinah networks often and found her dream job through a local event, too. Read on to learn more about Fatinah’s inspiring and successful career in public health. – Sarah
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
I have always had a passion for helping those in need and being the “voice for the voiceless.” I knew I wanted to work in the healthcare field, but I was uncertain which profession I wanted to pursue. Growing up, my mother was physically active and prepared healthy, home-cooked meals almost every night. I was also fairly active as a child, so exercising and eating healthy was considered the norm in my family. However, I did not realize that teaching someone these behaviors was an actual profession! When I went to college, I heard a lecture by a Registered Dietitian and she discussed her daily duties and responsibilities. Instantly, I knew this was the career for me. As I learned more about nutrition and dietetics, I absolutely loved the variety of settings that RDs could work in and the potential impact they can have on improving someone’s health.
Your Job Title:
Company you are with now:
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you:
My days are unpredictable as my workload is based on the needs of the Department and the program (Nutrition and Physical Activity) that I work for. Overall, I work on a few main projects. I am the coordinator for the County Nutrition Action Plan (CNAP) and our goal is to improve food security for low-income residents in Los Angeles County by coordinating nutrition messages and leveraging services among federally funded nutrition assistance programs. For example, I work with WIC and CalFresh to develop strategies to increase participation rates and promote their services to their target audiences. I also conduct nutrition training workshops to public health nurses, health educators and contracted community-based organizations. The workshops follow a train-the-trainer model and the purpose is to standardize the nutrition education that is being delivered to the community. Lastly, I am involved in the Choose Health LA Restaurant Meal Program in which we promote a healthier food environment by collaborating with local restaurant owners. To participate in the program, restaurants must offer reduced size portions and offer healthier children’s meals. I assist restaurant owners in reviewing their menus and develop strategies on how to adopt healthier meal options into their current menu.
I spend most of my time in the office and I go out to the community when I am visiting the restaurants for the Choose Health LA program. The unpredictable days are when there is an upcoming health fair, promotional event or reviewing any urgent nutrition policies (e.g. commenting on the new menu labeling guidelines or County vending machine policy). I have to re-shift my work responsibilities when this occurs so staying organized and prioritizing is vital for this position! I also have the opportunity to attend public health related conferences, webinars, lectures or any other educational sessions that will assist with my current job duties. There will be days where I am in meetings all day or days when I am researching about sugar-sweetened beverages or developing nutrition messages for children. It just depends what and where the needs are within the Department.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
My dietitian friend told me that the County was hiring and I should apply for the Nutritionist position. I applied and soon after, I got hired! I actually met this friend at a California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Los Angeles District (LAD) meeting. If it wasn’t for that LAD meeting, I would have never met her or heard about this position. This is why networking is so critical!
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I would say that I’m born with interpersonal skills. I get along easily with others and enjoy making new friends. I pay very close attention to body language and typically can sense if someone is upset, angry, excited, etc. and respond appropriately to their emotions. The main skill I have learned along the way is public speaking. I used to be terrified of speaking in front of a group of people and I knew if I entered dietetics, then I would need to master this skill. I took a public speaking class in college and throughout graduate school and work, I have really enhanced this skill.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Volunteer, network and discover your passion. For the past 4 years, I have been heavily involved with the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Los Angeles District (LAD). Prior to LAD, I was the Communications Coordinator for the Southern California Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (SOCSPEN). Through these volunteer opportunities, I was able to network and meet some amazing dietitians. I highly valued the relationships I developed from these volunteer organizations as they have assisted me in obtaining jobs and seeking career advice.
Discover your passion – there are various routes you can take as a dietitian and it can be very overwhelming at times if you have several interests. What helped me discovered my passion for public health was I wanted to work in a field in which I could make the most impact on a population’s health. Although I enjoyed working as a clinical dietitian, I was not fulfilled professionally. Once I discovered public health, I knew this was the area I wanted to specialize in.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Fruits and vegetables!