Alice O'Connor, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.D.

Alice O'Connor is a Clinical Dietitian at Baystate Medical Center.

Why did you choose this job and/or career?

When I went to high school there were still classes in Home Economics. Each year in high school I took a course in Foods. We were taught about food preparation, food safety and a little about nutrition. I really enjoyed these classes. I also liked and did well in my sciences classes. Combining the two interests and majoring in nutrition in college was an easy decision. I also had worked in a medical office (clerical work) during high school and developed an interest in the medical field.

What other jobs have you had in the past that led you to your current position?

My first job as a dietitian was at the Providence Hospital in Holyoke. I was one of two clinical dietitians. I learned how to be a clinical/staff dietitian there and my experience helped me get my present job at Baystate Medical Center. I had been at Providence Hospital for a little over a year when then job at Baystate opened up. I had done part of my training at Hartford Hospital and knew that I wanted to work in a large teaching hospital.

What is a typical day like for you at Baystate Medical Center? Who do you normally interact with?

I start my day by reviewing my floor sheets, planning which patients I need to see that day, and prioritizing them based on which patients are new consults and which are "follow-ups". I work in the Intensive Care Unit and most of my patients are on tube feedings or parenteral nutrition. I check with the nurses every day about how the patients are tolerating the tube feedings. I also review the medical record to determine if there are any changes in the patients' medical status, medications, lab values, etc. that would affect their nutritional status, ability to tolerate/receive nutrition support, or necessitate changes in their present nutrition support regimens. If I feel a change in a patient's tube feeding or parenteral nutrition regimen is necessary, I will speak to the physician caring for that patient and discuss my plan. Often times I will round with the physicians if I have important nutrition issues to discuss.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

There are many aspects of my job that I like. I work with an amazing group of dietitians and dietetic technicians. Everyone is very supportive of each other and always willing to help. I also feel fortunate to work in a teaching hospital. The residents (physicians) are more receptive to input from allied health professionals and it is a very dynamic setting. I am fortunate that the staff in the ICU view nutrition as a vital part of patient care and my input is valued.

What was your Educational Preparation for your job as an RD?

I have a BS in Clinical Dietetics, Coordinated Undergraduate Program, from UCONN. Therefore, I did not have to do an internship. My first two years of college consisted of taking all the typical required courses which included lots of science courses - two semesters of regular chemistry, one semester of organic chemistry, two semesters of anatomy and physiology, one semester each of biochemistry and microbiology. During this time I also took several nutrition courses such as basic nutrition and nutrition anthropology. Because I was in a coordinated undergraduate program, we started doing our practicum work in our junior year while also taking various nutrition (clinical, community, food service, food safety, etc) and science courses. For our clinical courses, our practicums were in hospitals where we learned how to read a medical record, interpret lab values, interview patients, take diet histories, conduct nutrition assessments, write nutrition care plans and do diet instructions. The amount of time we spent in the hospitals increased each semester from a few hours once a week during the first semester junior year to two full days the first semester of our senior year. For our community nutrition class, we spent time at a health center in the north end of Hartford. My practicum for my food service class was done at an elderly feeding site. Because my degree is in "clinical" dietetics, I did not have as much course work or practicum experience in food service or community nutrition as some other programs. The last semester of my senior year consisted of two clinical rotations - one-half semester each. My first one was in a small community hospital and my second one was at Hartford Hospital which is a large teaching hospital. I was on a surgical floor with an ICU and worked with the nutrition support dietitian. It was an outstanding experience and I learned so much. I was able to put into practice everything I had learned in school and my previous practicums and along with what I learned from the dietitians there was able to develop into an entry level dietitian.

If you could give nutrition students any advice, what would it be?

In addition to trying to do your best in all of your courses, especially nutrition courses, seek out experience in the field - paid or volunteer. There are so many areas of nutrition and dietetics that may be potential career opportunities - not only in hospitals and other aspects of the medical field but also in business and industry, media, food corporations. Go on the web sites for the American Dietetic Association, the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, and other professional nutrition associations to see what they are all about. Talk to people in different professions in food/nutrition/dietetics and shadow them if possible. Find a mentor. Join your local dietetic associations to start developing relationships with people in the field and to learn more about the profession.