Dietetic Career Spotlight: Renée Hoffinger, MHSE, RD
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on DECEMBER 20, 2011
Helping the veterans continue to stay healthy and rehabilitate, Renée Hoffinger, MHSE, RD, shares how she provides her patients with the “Recovery Diet.”
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
The concept of preventing disease and maintaining health by something as simple and non-invasive as eating. In my early twenties I worked at an internist’s office and was inspired to do better than hand out tear-off sheets on diabetic diets from drug companies.
Your Job Title?
Registered dietitian/clinical specialist substance abuse
Company you are with now?
North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System (the VA in Gainesville)
What is a typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
As the RD in a residential rehabilitation program for veterans I complete clinical assessments and provide nutrition education, both didactic and hands-on. This afternoon, for example, I’ll be taking 2 veterans to a local market for a functional, as well as educational, field trip. On Weds I’ll be planning, preparing for, and conducting a cooking class. I usually have some extra-curricular project I’m working on after the official workday. This past summer I wrote a book (“The Recovery Diet” due to be published by Adams Media in January 2012) spelling out most of what I’ve learned and have been teaching over the past 18 years as a dietitian in the field of substance abuse. It is basically one big pep talk on how to use good nutrition to regain your health and support your recovery from alcoholism (although most of the content can be applied to recovery from any chemical addiction), plus a section on “Putting it Together in the Kitchen”, compete with 12 weeks of menus.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
I was known in this town as the RD who works part-time (my husband and I both worked part time while raising our children) so when someone was needed for a part-time position, I got the call. My previous position as an MDRD (Modification of Diet in Renal Disease) research RD was winding down so I overlapped for several months. I had zero background in substance abuse but it turned out to be an excellent match.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I’ve always intuitively been a “people person”. Nutrition knowledge and more formal counseling skills have been developed via formal education, workshops, OTJ training, as well as reading, reading, reading. A sense of humor is probably one of my most useful “skills” – that I acquired growing up in a punny family – but it really helps in my current work, defuses situations, puts things in perspective, makes life more enjoyable. I developed photographic skills by taking community education photography courses (back in pre-digital days) and use my photos as backgrounds for slides in nutrition presentations at conferences. Much to my surprise, one of my photos recently won the JADA cover photo contest! It is a mandala of hands (veterans are the models) and foods we’ve cooked together, highlighting hands-on nutrition education, which I believe is the wave of the future for RDs and those they serve.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Well, it depends on how you define success…..Treat each person as a spark of the Divine. They might be a challenging spark of the Divine but try to learn and grow from difficult situations. Sing and dance your way through each day. Be grateful for the opportunity to do work that you love and the privilege of being with folks going through difficult life transitions.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
I am. I get a lot of honest feedback, most of it positive and appreciative. It is a privilege to be allowed in to share in amazing life transitions/transformations. It would be great to get a bit more support from the powers-that-be, in terms of resources to do the job even better and make more efficient use my time. Specifically, to teach in my dream kitchen: a secure, well equipped, commodious space, where ingredients and equipment are readily available.