Life after graduation is a little scary – we get it. We’re bringing you the stories of nutrition graduates who have taken the path less trodden to show the exciting possibilities available to graduates in our field. Want more? Check out other some other interviews here and here.
Kerryn Boogaard is a food-loving dietitian based in Newcastle, NSW. Although her specialty areas include sports nutrition and diabetes management (she is a Credentialed Diabetes Educator), she is passionate about all things food and nutrition. She aims to help people cook, eat and enjoy real food and find a place for all foods in their own healthy balance. Her business, The Wholesome Collective, has a focus on hands-on cooking experiences as she believes this is one of the best ways to teach people about food and help them connect the dots between nutrition messages and real food examples. She runs a mobile cooking school along side of home economist Mary Wills. Kerryn is also an enthused writer and thinks journalism would have been her second option if dietetics had not worked out.
I sat down with Kerryn and discussed her career thus far, running The Wholesome Collective, practical dietetics and plus some tips and tricks for future dietitians.
Hey Kerryn, could you please tell us what made you want to get into dietetics?
From a young age, I enjoyed food and eating in general. I loved unconventional foods for kids such as sardines, pickled onions, gherkins and pretty much all fruits and vegetables, plus I was always fascinated by food – how it is grown and what it does to our body. It was my mum who suggested that I explore the option of becoming a dietitian. I didn’t even know what a dietitian did. But when I started reading I couldn’t believe that I could have a job where I got to talk about food all day! So I worked hard at school toward this goal.
Looking back to when you first graduated from the University of Newcastle, What has you career path looked like to date?
My first position was at Wyong Hospital as a clinical dietitian. I didn’t know 100% what I wanted to do or which area of dietetics I wanted to get into as a graduate but when I received a position the following February after completing my final placement at Wyong Hospital, I did not turn it down!
This role was a pretty traditional transition from University to the workforce and this I am very thankful for as clinical dietetics provides a real solid foundation to any dietetic career. My case-mix was broad and included surgical inpatient and diabetes, coeliac disease and maternal health outpatients, plus working in a team environment and problem-solving are valuable skills that cannot be taught solely through a University degree but rather through experience. I was in this position for 12 months, although I felt an extra 6 months or so would be beneficial, my husband was offered a position in Adelaide, so we made the move to South Australia.
Upon moving to South Australia, I worked with Diabetes SA in a full-time role and started a private practice at a sports clinic on the weekend. I also started my blog – life was busy! The forced move to Adelaide made me think about what I really wanted to do. Working for Diabetes SA was a great experience and as a result, I became a Credentialled Diabetes Educator. As part of this role, which was an extremely diverse one and required me to wear many hats, I trained health professionals, planned and ran group education sessions including supermarket tours and cooking classes, went on many kids camps and saw clients living with diabetes. This role showed me that dietetics has a massive scope and really ignited my interest!
Towards the end of 2014, I joined the team at Sprout Cooking School and also worked at the onsite associated private practice. At Sprout, they truly believe in providing practical skills for people to learn how to cook again and love real food. Working with Sprout was a dream come true and a wonderful one but was cut short due to a move back to Newcastle where I launched The Wholesome Collective in July last year.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
This is such a difficult question to answer as I am currently really enjoying my work and career. I am very passionate about teaching people about food and nutrition as I feel that the more people know and understand, the less fear they will have. I see a lot of confusion and fear around food and nutrition, but when I see people become more confident in their own healthy eating patterns and find the perfect balance for them, it’s a real win!
I love when after an informal chat, people leave with a feeling of relief and like a weight has lifted off their shoulder – now whether that be because they have found new foods to enjoy; understood their medical condition a little better; or gained a little more confidence when eating well and prepping foods. People eat every day, so to help people do this is a real pleasure.
Now let’s talk about The Wholesome Collective! This is such an amazing idea and successful business – how did the idea first come about and evolve?
When I was moving back to Newcastle I had a good think about what I wanted to do. I had spent the previous 5 years in Adelaide establishing a pretty cool set of skills that involved writing, guest speaking, group education, cooking, resource development, recipe writing, menu reviews and individual counseling (online, phone and face-to-face). I decided to establish and market these services under a consultancy business.
The Wholesome Collective does a lot of consultancy work and currently runs cooking programs with ADSSI Homeliving, Australia. How did the mobile cooking school evolve?
In regards to the cooking component, Mary and I worked together at Wyong Hospital. I was a clinical dietitian and she was a nutrition assistant. We hit it off immediately over a love of food and cooking. When we worked together, Mary would share recipes with me – she actually used to write for the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook! We always thought it would be fun to work together, teaching people about nutrition and cooking so when I was moving back I gave her a call. Mary has also worked a lot in the community sector so this year we have aimed to link in with established community services to provide group education and nutrition and culinary courses. This is a work in progress but have secured some really exciting jobs, for example the 4-week cooking classes for ADSSI Homeliving, Australia members for the remainder of 2016!
Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
Each day is so diverse so a typical week is probably better to showcase what tasks I may do each day. This week for example:
MONDAY: Cooking school with Mary for ADSSI Homeliving, Australia – plus a little home visit for one of my clients on the way home.
TUESDAY: I saw three clients with diabetes (one gestational and the other two type 1 diabetes) plus I put together a few proposals for community services.
WEDNESDAY: I will be working as a diabetes educator.
THURSDAY: I will see clients and am putting together a recipe book for over 65-year-olds.
FRIDAY: I may do a little bit of admin work like invoices and sort through the finances for The Wholesome Collective, and also schedule in some personal time i.e. lunch with my husband. A work-life balance is so important to me as it prevents me from getting too overwhelmed and stressed.
What are the biggest challenges involved with running your business?
The challenges go hand in hand with my weaknesses. Although I have taught myself how to do the finances, IT and the website side of things, I don’t often prioritise these tasks so this can be a real challenge to sit down and actually get them done.
One thing, I have learnt from running my own business is that sometimes outsourcing the work is really important. Weighing up the options and finding a balance between the tasks I can do well, enjoy and complete efficiently comapred to the tasks that I do not enjoy, take longer to do and would be better being completed by someone else, with expertise in the area, is important.
What do you think are the biggest challenges young dietitians face today?
There are many challenges out there for future dietitians and one of them is the lack of jobs! However, finding your sweet spot and remembering the role of a dietitian is so diverse and doesn’t necessary have to be a traditional clinical role is so important. But I must say the diverse [amount of] roles dietitians can work in. This is one of the very wonderful things about our profession. Although it can be challenging to work out what pathway to take, I think this is a nice challenge and opportunity to have!
I encourage all young dietitians and students to chat to more experienced dietitians and take on opportunities, even if you feel it’s not necessary the direction you thought you wanted to take.
Another huge challenge is the amount of noise out there around food and nutrition. It is easy to get caught up in what is being said and focus on the negatives and want to stand up and fight, but I feel it’s important to channel your energy into continuing what you do well and promoting your own message. Social media is a wonderful platform to do this and I think that it’s great that students and young dietitians are getting involved in social media.
What advice do you have for graduating dietitians that want to do something different?
Take on new opportunities and test the waters as a young dietitian – you may find something else that you really love.
Find what you love to do and keep learning and gaining experience in these areas – for example, I figured out that I loved working in diabetes early on so I worked hard to learn what I could, talked to other dietitians working in this area and did more study. This has helped build clientele coming back to Newcastle as a ‘go to’ person in this field.
Network – talk to other dietitians and people in the field that you want to work in. Being nice/friendly and expressing interest can lead to some great opportunities. I remember the first day I met Themis from Sprout I told him to give me a buzz if he ever needed a hand with a cooking class. I was no expert at cooking but loved it and knew that I would love more experience in this area of practice.
Go that extra mile – I believe it’s important to go the extra mile for your clients (and that is why I limit how many people I see and ensure adequate time during consultations) but it’s important to avoid doing a lot of work for free. We have studied long enough to charge for our services. We seem to have this strange culture in our profession that it is normal and ok to do work for free, but giving too much information, time, and energy away without capitalising on but this is where a young dietitian can get burnt out and start to resent their work or profession.
Photograph by Sarah Hansen