PUBLISHED: 5:24 PM on Wednesday, May 21, 2008
What's on the plate? Bartlett's dieticians give the dish
Bartlett Regional Hospital's Linda Wild, Food and Nutrition Services Manager, and Nancy Duhaime, staff dietician, work closely with hospital physicians, nurses and other professional staff to assess nutritional needs of patients and provide education. They offer outpatient nutrition counseling and community education in a variety of settings.

Being a Dietician

Nancy Duhaime: It says "dietitian" on here (pointing to her name tag). When I was new to the hospital, I was in the cafeteria paying for my lunch and somebody next to me looked at my tag and quickly covered her food, saying "Oh, don't look at what I bought!"

photo courtesy of Bartlett
  Nancy Duhaime MS, RD, LD and Linda Wild MS, RD, LD - Manager, Food and Nutrition Services Department
Linda Wild: We're not food cops. We don't peek into your grocery cart. I see our task as helping people learn to make changes in their eating and lifestyles. Many people know what changes would help them, but they don't know how to make the changes happen.

LW: There are a number of parts to our jobs. As the manager of the Food and nutrition services department I oversee menu development and meal planning, preparation and service. Bartlett prepares meals for Wildflower Court and the Rainforest Recovery Center in addition to the meals prepared for patients, staff and visitors. The Bartlett Café is bustling, especially during lunch. We serve very different populations, so it is a real challenge. When we plan menus we have to keep in mind various therapeutic diets such as cardiac, low sodium, and diabetic, as well as modified textures for those with dysphasia (trouble swallowing).

ND: When someone enters the hospital, certain health conditions add to the risk for nutritional problems. It's our job as dietitians to assess patients at risk and address their nutritional needs. Examples of those with special nutritional needs might be someone with a high blood sugar (diabetic) or with diverticulitis (an inflammation in the large intestine) or with myocardial infarction (heart attack). We do a lot of teaching.

Filling the plate

LW: In addition to the "food" aspect of our job, we are part of the health care team at Bartlett. We work with patients in cardiac rehab and those receiving chemotherapy. We teach diabetes and pre-diabetes classes and I have been involved with the Women's and Men's Health Forum's sponsored by the Cancer Connection for a number of years. Along with other Bartlett staff, we conduct health screenings at the mall several times per year. At the health screenings we help people understand what the numbers mean (non-fasting cholesterol and glucose readings) and how they relate to what people are eating.

ND: We give about seventy five-minute dietary consults (both laugh). We're laughing because it's just not enough time to teach someone how to change a lifetime of eating habits. We teach people about making changes step-by-step.

A plate half-full or half empty

ND: three years ago, the Reifenstein Dialysis Unit opened in the Mendenhall Mall Annex. Individuals on hemodialysis (artificial kidney machine) have very special dietary needs. I have provided the nutritional services for the dialysis unit. I also conduct nutrition assessments and individual counseling at the Rainforest Recovery Center, and teach a nutrition class there every three weeks.

LW: We have a significant outpatient clientele. Their primary care provider refers people or they call us directly asking for help. The most common reasons we see people for outpatient counseling are for diabetes, weight management and high cholesterol levels. There are other conditions such as eating disorders, celiac disease, or various gastro-intestinal problems. In a small hospital, we have to be "Jill of all trades." One of my favorite parts of the job is working with the Senior Diabetes Support Group, which meets monthly at Mountain View Senior Center.

What happened to the home plate?

LW: People who eat mostly fast foods aren't getting all the nutrition they need. But taking vitamins wouldn't be my first recommendation. A young man I know had been eating a diet heavy in fast foods and drinking five sodas a day. He decided to make two changes: he stopped the fast food and the soda. He started preparing more food at home. A month later when he walked into the office I was struck by his appearance: not only did he look trimmer, but his complexion had cleared up remarkably.

Cleaning the plate

ND: Nutrition and "dieting" are not just about weight. Food has an impact on overall health and our emotional well-being. The elderly grew up at a time when everyone sat down for a home-cooked meal. They eat slower than many of us now think is normal. Fast food came along because we are in a hurry. Gone are the days when we took time to eat and enjoy the meal as well as the companionship of others at the table.

I was drawn to the field of nutrition because I love to eat. I also love to share what I know and teach individuals something new. Becoming a dietitian was my answer to combining two things I really enjoy.

LW: I love puzzles, and I really enjoy working with individuals to help find the keys to making changes work for them. I became interested in nutrition for health reasons - when my kids were young I discovered that what they ate made a big difference in their health. That interest snowballed into a mid-life career change!