Suzanne Severin, B.S.

Suzanne Severin is a Nutritionist at Head Start Locations in Franklin/Hampshire County.

What is your educational preparation?

BS in General Nutrition, Syracuse University.

Why did you choose this job?

After working 12 years in hospitals, I was ready for a change. I wanted to do more preventative counseling as opposed to meeting with patients after they had complications. I worked at Children’s Hospital for 6 years and an adult hospital for another 6 years where I gained valuable clinical experience. During those years, I knew I preferred working with both the pediatric and geriatric population. When I moved to Amherst, I started looking for community work and this job as a Head Start Nutritionist appeared in the paper. I responded and was offered the job immediately. I know that my clinical experience and the years working with children made me an ideal candidate for the position.

Can you describe a typical work day?

My days really vary. One day I may be in the office writing menus for the Head Start Program, or reviewing menus that I receive from the classrooms in accordance with the CACFP Food Program. Later in the morning I may leave to head out to one of our 16 classrooms to read a fun, interactive book about foods or fussy eaters with the kids at circle time. I usually then stay for lunch and sit and eat with the kids. Often the teachers will ask me to sit at a particular table and observe a child they have concerns about. I speak to the kids during our lunch about the food on their plates and play games with them to encourage many to try something that is just sitting on their plate….typically the vegetable.

On other days, I review physicals and growth curves of each child, site per site. I look at their hemoglobin levels and their lead levels. If any of these are too high or low, they are put on my High Risk Tracker. Phone calls or letters are sent out discussing my finds. Often I will contact the child’s pediatrician’s office.

During the school year I try to meet with families to discuss nutrition and the families’ eating habits….especially those that are over the 95% for BMI. I will meet families at their child’s site, occasionally at my office and often I will do a home visit with their advocate. These are just a few things that I do during the day.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Spending time with the preschoolers!

Most challenging aspect about your job?

Meeting with a parent can be tricky if their child is overweight or their diet is very poor. It can be challenging if a parent does not feel there is any reason to make changes or doesn’t have any concerns about their overweight child. One must be diplomatic, compassionate and understanding…AND be firm enough so they know you have real concerns. I also feel very badly for some of the parents I meet….some live in such poverty and have so much stress in their lives that it’s hard to go on about healthy snacks when they are in “survival mode”. In these cases I help them develop a few goals and go less into detail about other things. It’s also difficult to see the home lives of some of these kids and their stress levels at such young ages.

Can you share with me any previous positions that you held?

I worked at Children’s Hospital from 1982- 1988. The first 3 years I worked in the Diet Office and the last 3 years I worked under GI for the Nutrition Support Team. Here I worked with a team that monitored PN (Parenteral Nutrition). From 1988-1995, I worked at an adult hospital in Troy, N.Y. I visited patients daily and educated patients about their diets..(Diabetic Exchange List, Cardio diet, etc….) I also monitored tube feedings. I worked on the Geriatric Floor which I enjoyed and was a consultant at an Adult Home. We moved to the Philadelphia area for about 1 ½ years and I worked in my brother’s dental office. It was a nice change and I answered phones, made molds from impressions and developed X-rays. When we moved to Amherst, I was ready to get “back into the field”.

Do you have any advice for current nutrition students?

I strongly feel that having some clinical background is very important in our field. One gets experience counseling patients, reading Doctor’s notes (and understanding the lingo), and understanding the human body. At school, one takes classes and reads books, but there is no substitute for being involved first hand. My clinical years gave me a wealth of experience to bring to this Community Nutrition opportunity.