Dietetic Career Spotlight on Heidi Kiehl, Clinical Nutrition Services Manager, Teacher, Public Policy
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on DECEMBER 12, 2016
Meet Heidi Kiehl, MS, RDN, CNSC, who is changing lives at her clinical job, her university teaching job, and her public policy position with the CA Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We can make a difference and Heidi shows us how. – Sarah
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
I went to college with a desire to enter the field of medicine. I wasn’t sure what kind of medical practice I wanted to pursue, but I knew that health care was my calling. As an undergraduate, I studied at Santa Clara University, majoring in Combined Sciences, with a natural sciences focus – a unique program that integrated a wide variety of social and natural sciences. After the first quarter of my junior year, when my fellow “pre-med” friends were loving anatomy and immunology/hematology courses, I was more inspired by biochemistry. My academic advisor and I talked about it, and I probed him for career suggestions that I could consider as an alternate to medicine, hoping to identify some sort of health care application of biochem. He talked to me about considering pharmacy and nutrition, both of which intrigued me. As my junior year progressed, and I searched my soul for the right answer, I realized how much my upbringing in Tacoma, WA was rooted in food: I learned to cook, process, and preserve food at an early age; I planted a garden annually with my parents and siblings, and we harvesting the veggies together; I picked fruit from our many apple, pear, plum trees, and wild berries from bushes in our backyard; and I traveled with my dad to farms in Puyallup to buy what we didn’t grow. Taking this into account, I read career guides that enlightened me to the field of dietetics, and it seemed like a very good fit. Consequently, I decided to seek out a graduate program with a strong nutrition science base, which also had an approved dietetics curriculum, so that I could get my MS and then apply for internships. I ended up at UC-Davis, and then went on to UC-San Francisco for my internship.
Your Job Title?
- My full-time position is Clinical Nutrition Services Manager (CNM).
- I am also a part-time lecturer, on the faculty at San Jose State Univerity, co-teaching Advanced MNT
- My volunteer leadership positions for the CA Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics include:
- State Policy Representative (on the Public Policy Council)
- Acting Past-President (for the Silicon Valley District).
Company you are with now?
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which is the medical center for Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System. It’s a 574-bed public hospital with inpatient and outpatient nutrition services, and I manage the RDNs (21), DTRs (3), and Dietetic Assistants (8).
– LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heidi-kiehl-485130a
Describe a typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
I try to stay closely connected with my staff, making myself available to them via various communication options. Therefore, on any given day, it’s not uncommon for me to have at least 1 RD one-on-one meeting on my schedule. As well, my door is usually open if they need or want to stop in to discuss patient care scenarios, ideas, or concern, or to report on their progress with various projects we are always working on. For my DTRs, I reach out to them on a daily basis to make sure they are doing well with their workloads. For my dietetic assistants who work in the diet office, check trayline, and perform bedside menu assistance on the units, I hold a huddle 3 times/week so that we can continuously talk about what is going well, what needs improvement, what’s new/changed (internal or external to our department) and to share best practices and ideas. I often have other meetings on my calendar as well – since I participate in numerous committees in the hospital (Nutrition Support, P & T, Infection Prevention, Clinical Documentation/EMR, Nutrition Quality Improvement, Renal Care Quality Improvement, Patient Education, and Diabetes Steering) and I provide monthly orientation inservices to nurses. I typically have some level of interaction, planned or spontaneous, with our dietetic interns when they are doing their clinical or community rotation, as I’m the primary preceptor responsible for their schedules, assignments, and projects. I also make time to interface with my director, to make sure that we are on the same page with all of the department and hospital-wide initiatives, as well as the daily affairs. Between and beyond all of the meetings, I work on projects, including quality audits/reports and Performance Improvement endeavors that culminate from individual and team meetings I have with my staff. These have recently included such things as: reworking the pediatric menus to include the carb-counts to enhance patient education, revising our parenteral nutrition ordering standards to align with ASPEN’s best practice recommendations, updating parts of our diet manual to reduce confusion about fluid restrictions and renal diets, and writing new policies and standards for malnutrition documentation. I am never bored!
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
I was already working as a CNM at a smaller community hospital further away from home for a number of years prior to taking this current job. I loved my role overseeing clinical operations and policies and leading a team of dietitians, so I knew this was a good position for me. My current director happened to be teaching with me at SJSU, and told me that she was able to open a CNM position; she asked if I knew anyone who might be both interested and qualified. In less than a minute’s time, I told her that I was interested! Since her offer presented an opportunity to work closer to home (15 minute drive vs. 50 minute drive) and in a larger, more diverse setting, I knew I had to react fast and just go with my instinct if it felt right. I interviewed and was offered the position. The result is that I had to leave a job in which I was comfortable, and stretch into something new, with different challenges.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I think that I have been blessed with good communication skills. My writing ability was strong from an early age. Conversely, my public speaking skills (and comfort level) were not evident to me until later in life, although my dad nurtured them early; it took awhile for me to step out of my shell to realize they were there. Now I really love doing presentations and teaching. I also think I have an inherent ability to create great plant-based meals from my kitchen without using recipes. It’s honestly my only area of creativity. What doesn’t come naturally, and I’m constantly trying to learn and get better, is the ability to deal directly with conflict and negativity.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
I think it’s valuable and important to affirm on a daily basis that you know your purpose and have a vision for both improving what you (and your team) do and expanding what you do. I keep the future in mind, always. How do I want our profession to look like in 5 years or in 10 years? What do I want my team to be doing? How can we elevate our practice and impact our patients for better outcomes? What will bring more recognition to my clinical nutrition team in the hospital? It’s not just about what happens today that is fulfilling, it’s knowing that I’m on the quest toward a better tomorrow, and having the passion and confidence to model/lead/teach/empower others to join me.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what
would it be?
More 3-day weekends! I would love more “weekend time” to finish projects at home, and to make short, frequent trips to visit family. My husband and I have family dispersed in different cities across the US, no one closer than ~500 miles. It would be most awesome to see each of them at least once a year.