Dietitian Career Spotlight on Linda S. Eck Mills, MBA, RDN, LDN, FADA
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on JANUARY 7, 2014
A dietitian with many hats, Linda S. Eck Mills, rocks the corporate dietitian world while writing, career coaching seasoned professionals, acting as ANFP program director and working as a hospice dietitian. Read on to see how she balances all her responsibilities while still finding time to teach others. – Sarah
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
I was involved in 4-H Foods and Nutrition projects as a teen and was a National Winner in the 4-H Foods and Nutrition Program
Your Job Title:
1. Corporate Dietitian (full time)
2. Career Coach, International Speaker, Freelance Writer (part time)
3. ANFP Program Director/ Instructor (part time)
4. Hospice Dietitian (per Diem)
Company you are with now:
1. Community Education Centers
2. Dynamic Communication Services
3. Lehigh Carbon Community College
4. Heartland Hospice
Other Social Media links you would like to include:
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
My day is never the same in corrections – the best kept secret for dietitian career options. I work full time with responsibilities for 44 secure and residential (community corrections or half-way) facilities in 11 states. I’m responsible for doing the nutritional analysis on 73 weeks of menus and overseeing medical diets. While there are many legitimate medical diet requests, there are also many requests in an attempt to get “special treatment”. My favorite question is “What’s the medical necessity for this medical diet request?” After all, the sign on the outside of the facility is not Burger King, so the inmates and residents don’t get it their way while they are with us! I have seen more alleged food allergies since I took this position than I have in the entire rest of my career. Can you believe an allergy to pancakes, but no allergy to flour, milk, or eggs? How about an allergy to white bread, but not hamburger or hot dog buns? Or can you believe an allergy to carrots and green beans, but she can eat 4-way mixed vegetables which contain peas, corn, and you guessed it carrots and green beans! I also review religious meal requests. I had a request for a kosher meal from an inmate who stated his religion was Jewish, but he was practicing Seven-Day Adventist without a Rabbi since he didn’t have Jewish materials. Upon investigation, he had just the month before participated in Ramadan activities! The kosher request was denied. I also teach ServSafe and am the writer and editor for the corporate foodservice team when policies are needed. Most days I work from home with a laptop and headset. Love the dress code! In case you are interested, there will be a number of job openings in corrections in the next 2-9 years as dietitians I know retire.
As a career coach in my own business I partner with seasoned professionals who are looking for a change. I’m their bridge over troubled career waters. It’s exciting to see the progress the clients make and the success they achieve. I write regularly for Nutrition & Foodservice Edge (formerly Dietary Manager Magazine), The Insider (magazine for Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates), and Connections (newsletter for Dietitians in Health Care Communities Dietetic Practice Group), and am approaching 200 published articles. In addition, I have co-edited, co-authored, contributed, or authored 9 books. The most recent book is Flavorful Fortified Food – Recipes to Enrich Life. I speak at professional conferences and have been fortunate to be invited to speak at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I guarantee to keep the audience involved- even after lunch – or you don’t pay my speaking fee, only my travel expenses!
I direct the ANFP Dietary Manager at a community college and teach sanitation and food service management during 8 of the 21 Saturdays in the program for the past 25 years and provide dietitian services to hospice as needed.
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
To really appreciate the power of networking, you need to know my full time position was a new position within the company when they went from contract foodservice to self-op. The recruiter had never hired a dietitian before and had no idea how to find one. Her husband went to college with a woman who is now a supermarket dietitian and he reached out to her on his wife’s behalf. The dietitian posted the position for the recruiter on the PA Dietetic Association EML. At that time I was recuperating from a broken wrist, saw the position posting and said to myself “I can do that!”. The company is headquartered 138 miles from my home. So I checked with the recruiter to see where this position was based. After 3 phone and 1 in-person interviews I was hired and I now work from home.
The college teaching position was again a networking situation. I knew the program director from the local dietetic association and she knew I had experience and skills in food service management. When her career focus changed and she left the program, she approached me to take over as the program director.
I was hired at hospice after answering a newspaper ad.
I’d like to digress briefly to note that I found my co-author of Flavorful Fortified Food – Recipes to Enrich Life as a result of a chance “meeting” on the Dietetics in Health Care Communities (DHC) Dietetic Practice Group electronic mail list. Another dietitian had posted a question wondering what others are doing for fortified food diets. My now co-author responded that she was hoping to come out with a recipe manual for food fortification. I responded and offered to share a collection of beverage recipes I have successfully used. We determined that I had the skills that Digna lacked to make this project become a reality and a partnership was formed. We have successfully written and marketed this book doing all our work by phone and email for over two years. We live on opposite coasts and still have not met face-to-face. Some day we will finally meet.
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I was born with speaking, teaching, coaching, organization skills, and a Type A personality.
The skills I’ve learned along the way is a much longer list since the world is constantly changing and my positions have required additional skills – some that didn’t exist when I graduated from high school – writing, computer and technology literacy, human resources, unions, adaptability and flexibility, budgeting and finance, marketing, sales, food service equipment, product development and testing, cultural diversity, and office politics skills
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
1. Never give up! I took the long way to become a dietitian. It was 11 years after I graduated from high school before I became a Registered Dietitian. It was 7 more years until I completed my MBA. However, I was a charter Fellow of the American Dietetic Association (FADA) and am now 1 of 376 FADA in the country!
2. Get involved in some way with your district or state dietetic association; or a dietetic practice group. This will help you build a professional network. I’ve been the president of the district dietetic association, on the nominating committee for a DPG, written articles for multiple DPG newsletters, and will be on the ballot for secretary of NE DPG in 2014.
3. Get involved with organizations outside dietetics to expand your skills. I have a membership in the local chapter of the America Society of Training and Development and their consultants group. I have gained teaching, training, management, and business skills from these associations.
4. Think and do things outside the box! I’ve taken my list of skills and transferred them to many different non-traditional positions. I have a little box in my office that says “Excuse me. Excuse me. Can you get me out of here?” Think about what you really want to do and where you really want to work to get to that dream job. For some people the dream job comes soon and for others it comes later, so be patient and never lose site of your goal. All good things some to those who wait!
5. Work with the future of our profession. Find a way to work with students or interns. Encourage them to succeed and push the status quo to advance the profession. It’s vital to “pay it forward”. The rewards are tremendous for everyone.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Professional friends around the world, plenty of frequent flyer and hotel points. This way I could travel, share my expertise with the professional friends in that country and the associations they belong to without spending my retirement savings.