What I Did This Summer: Dietetic Technician

Originally posted 9/23/18


Welcome to the final installment! It's taken 5 weeks to get through my work and volunteer experiences this summer, and I'm so thankful for all of the opportunities I've had to grow and learn.

What I Did This Summer: Dietetic Technician, Children's Minnesota

What is Children's Minnesota? 

Children's Minnesota is one of the largest independent pediatric health-care systems in the country. Located in the twin cities, there are two hospitals, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, and several clinics located nearby suburbs. Children's provides medical care and services to kiddos from brand-new micro-preemies all the way up to older teens.

As a fun fact, during my week volunteering with Camp Needlepoint, I met a Registered Dietitian who also works for Children's. At some point this semester, I'm going to be able to shadow her thanks to our shared employer. This connection and others I've made over the summer is definitely one of the best things that's happened in the last few months; I've met so many interesting and engaging people and been able to learn about many aspects of working in nutrition and health-care that I hadn't thought much about before. 

What is a Dietetic Technician? 

At Children's, the Dietetic Technicians, a team of about 7 full-time and part-time employees, including myself, work under the supervision of the registered dietitians to ensure that patients are receiving the nutrition care that they need while staying at the hospital. This involves prescreening and rescreening patients for nutritional concerns, communicating with nurses to clarify orders and answer questions, and preparing and delivering specialty formulas for patients who require them.

Unlike my other summer experiences, this one isn't over just because school started. I anticipate continuing to work as a Diet Tech at Children's for at least another nine months while I prepare to graduate from college. I've been working part-time and feel like I've found a good balance between working and focusing on my academics.

I should note here that though my position at Children's is called "Dietetic Technician", I am not an NDTR, which is a Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, Registered. An NDTR is a certified dietetic technician who has received a nationally-recognized credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, our accrediting organization. Though I am not an NDTR, from what I understand of the position and scope of practice, NDTRs perform some of the same tasks I do. 

What do I do? 

I've been working the afternoon/evening shift at work due to my availability, so recently I haven't been doing the nutrition screenings I mentioned above, as that is a Morning Diet Tech duty. When I arrive at work, I assist with getting the day's formulas prepared, organized on a rolling cart, double checked for accuracy against the medical records, and delivered to the basement walk-in cooler, where someone else will deliver them to the patient floors. The Mid-Day Diet Tech leaves about 45 minutes after I arrive, and then I work solo for the remainder of my shift.

If new formula orders or modifications to existing orders arrive after we've already made the formulas and delivered the cart, I'll write a new recipe (I'll talk more about that in a future post), and deliver the new formula to the patient's floor via tube system. This might not happen during my shift at all, or I might end up making half a dozen new formulas to tube up.

Another duty of the Diet Tech position at Children's Minneapolis is to answer room service calls for both the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. Drawing on my experience working in food service settings in the past, this is one of the less technical aspects of my job. I chat with nurses and parents of patients over the phone to order meals and snacks as requested. Sometimes kiddos will call me directly to order for themselves-- it's always a treat to chat with them (:

Sometimes, nurses will call to clarify a diet question or a formula question. Sometimes a nurse needs a carbohydrate count for a meal their patient ordered, and sometimes they need a recipe for a formula-concentrate ratio. Most of the questions are simple for me to find the answer to, but if not, I will consult a dietitian before returning their call. 

What have I learned? 

I've already gained a ton of experience working in a clinical setting since I began work in June. No two shifts are the same, and I'm constantly learning about new formulas, patient diagnoses, and the way nutrition care processes happen in a clinical setting. 

We use a particular medical database for our patients' medical records, as well as a point-of-service software system for inputting room service orders. Though it's likely that if I work in a clinical setting later in my career, I'll use different brands of software, it's helpful to be introduced to these and be able to navigate them smoothly.

If I'm trying to make a new formula for one patient while also answering room service calls from others, it can get a bit hectic when I'm by myself. I have gotten much better at productive multitasking and prioritizing recently, thanks to this job. 

Children's Minnesota color-codes their staff by the color of scrubs they wear--nurses get one color, doctors get another, respiratory/pharmacy/radiology, etc, each gets their own color. My department, the clinical nutrition services department, wear khaki colored scrub pants. Not a super exciting shade, I suppose, but I think it's pretty neat that I get to wear scrubs. It helps to get me into a "work" state of mind when I put them on before my shift. 

Something else I've learned is how to calculate formula recipes for specialty formula orders, which I think I'll do a separate blog post about, because it's so fun and interesting, and takes a bit of time to explain. 

It was a lot of fun reflecting on my summer experiences though this series! I hope to continue writing about my experiences both in and out of the classroom!