Updated: Feb 28
Some of the biggest questions I had when I was a student were- how do I know if a certain career path is right for me? AND how do I know what opportunities are available to dietitians?
If this sounds like you, make sure to read on... One of my biggest goals with this page is to help future dietitians gain exposure to some of the unique and amazing opportunities available to them. So, to start off with our awesome RD Spotlight, I'd love to introduce you to Vanessa Pike!
Where do you work?
I work at a non-profit called Nutrition International (NI), which is an organization working in dozens of countries around the world to deliver high-impact nutrition interventions, especially for women, adolescent girls, and children in Africa and Asia. The project I'm working on, called ENRICH, is in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, and Myanmar and aims to deliver quality facility- and community-based nutrition services to pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children, especially during the first 1000 days of life. Much of the work that NI does involves micronutrient supplementation (for example, iron-folic acid tablets for women, vitamin A capsules and micronutrient powder for young children). We also support food fortification, breastfeeding, research and policy development, adolescent nutrition, and more.
What was your path to get there?
My first job offer post-internship happened to be in public health (which, to be honest, I was somewhat disappointed about because I imagined jumping straight into intense clinical work)! It was supposed to be 6 months but turned into 3 years, and by that point, I had fallen in love with the concepts of population-level nutrition interventions and knew that working from a prevention angle would be my niche. I then decided to go back to school for a Masters of Public Health. I focused my coursework and research on global health issues relating to nutrition because I had always had a personal interest/curiosity in nutrition in the developing world. My research project involved a short trip to Haiti to conduct workshops in partnership with a local organization, and that was my first experience doing nutrition work abroad. It was an eye-opening experience that humbled me and, at the same time, motivated me to work harder on these issues. After a fair amount of job-hunting, I had a short internship with Action Against Hunger and then worked as a research assistant at the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health before moving to Ottawa to work at NI.
What do you love about your job?
The sense of purpose and meaning that comes with knowing I'm putting my career energies towards solutions that help alleviate some measure of "nutritional suffering" among the world's poorest. Knowing that in some small way, I'm helping to redistribute resources from donors to programs in areas of the world that have too often been overlooked by the development we enjoy here in the global north. I also love that wherever we work, it is always under the leadership and guidance of local governments and local staff. The ownership rests with them, and we have the privilege of supporting their efforts. Also, I love the fact that literally every day, I learn new things on the job, and no two days are alike.
What's the hardest part of your job?
Working cross-culturally, across time zones, and often with a language barrier are some of the things that come to mind. Also, development is hard, long-term work that requires patience before seeing results. There's definitely no immediate gratification here!
What's one piece of advice for students who want to pursue a similar career?
I would advise you to listen, learn, and listen some more. Understanding the sensitivities of doing work abroad. Speak with people already working in this field to find out where you may have 'blind spots' either in your education, experience, or worldview, then work to fill them! Get international experience if you can, in an appropriate way that respects local skill and culture. And (of course), n-e-t-w-o-r-k