Dietetic Career Spotlight on Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, LD
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on AUGUST 20, 2013
Meet Shannon Weston who has personally touched my heart and helped guide me through my health career. Shannon is an inspiring RD who captures people’s attention and assists them with making long-lasting, positive changes towards reaching their health & nutrition goals. She knows how to use Motivational Interviewing to get the results her clients want and need. – Sarah
Sarah Koszyk: What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
Shannon Weston: My uncle is the reason I am so passionate about nutrition. From as long as I can remember, he taught my brother and I about fruits and vegetables and the importance of ‘eating healthy for your heart.’ I was too young to appreciate at the time, but as I grew older I understood that my uncle has a genetic predisposition for heart disease requiring a strict diet and exercise routine to prevent complications. He’s chosen a healthy lifestyle because his health depends on it. My brother and I still reminisce about all the fun we had visiting my aunt and uncle each summer growing up. I remember he always carried fruit with him, put veggies on the grill for dinner, taught us what to look for on food labels at the grocery store and he and my aunt found a way to make cooking healthy meals fun for us youngsters. His example and influence on how to live a healthy life has stuck with me all these years and ultimately influenced my career path. I continue to thank him for that.
I was also a competitive athlete through high school and college, so I always researched which foods would help me preform my best. I feel it is my calling to share my love for nutrition and health with others. I also reasoned that because we all have to eat, I would always have a job!
Your Job Title and Company you are with now?
Registered Dietitian with University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you:
My job is different every day. One of my biggest responsibilities is teaching our diabetes self-management education program. I am constantly looking for ways to improve our classes by updating information, developing educational materials, improving my own knowledge through continuing education and most importantly making the class interesting for participants. My next career goal is to become a Certified Diabetes Educator. Outside of teaching classes, I provide individual nutrition counseling for a variety of patients in our primary care clinic. I see patients who have cardiovascular disease risk factors, celiac disease (and other food intolerances) and diabetes (both insulin dependent and non-insulin dependent). I also see athletes, pregnant women and patients who are interested in general nutrition or who struggle with their weight. Additionally, I work part-time in other clinics within the Texas Medical Center, including student health services and the endocrinology clinic within the School of Medicine.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
I found this position through an online job search and by networking with other dietitian’s in the area. As soon as I read the job description, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I think I was born with good problem solving and listening skills. My favorite books to read growing up were mystery novels because I wanted to be a detective and solve the case. Being a creative problem solver in this field helps patients address barriers and find solutions. Problem solving and listening go hand-in-hand. Only by being a good listener can you completely understand what patients need and how you can help them reach their goals.
Along the way I have learned how to incorporate Motivational Interviewing into my practice and how effective it is when counseling patients. Over the years I have also learned effective teaching strategies to make nutrition education fun, interactive and applicable to everyday life. I have also come to find that patients are apprehensive to tell dietitians the truth about their eating habits. If patients are not being completely honest it is a huge set-back. I have learned that by showing compassion, choosing your words carefully and removing any judgments you can make patients feel comfortable about fully disclosing information to you.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Expand your resume in different fields of dietetics and get as many experiences as possible. Find where the greatest opportunities are and go after them-even if it means volunteering. For example, I have worked in community, clinical, research, public health, food service and outpatient. I use all of the skills I learned in these fields in my current job. A diverse resume means you will be a stronger candidate for any job because you will be able to incorporate all aspects of nutrition into any position. Embrace challenges-especially in school and during your internship. Show enthusiasm to learn-teachers, preceptors and bosses welcome questions and opportunities for growth.
In addition, networking is very important. Having dietitian friends is so valuable. Keep in touch with former co-workers and classmates. I can’t tell you how many times I have called or emailed fellow dietitians for ideas, questions and treatment plans for patients. Because dietitians specialize-there is so much information to learn from your peers!
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Definitely free airline tickets so that I could travel more often and explore the world.