September 10, 2013

Hands On in the Community: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 3)

Bernice Chu

Bernice Chu

Dietetic Intern

Center for a Livable Future

Bernice-at-Franciscan-2013I’m Bernice. I love the first day of school. This week was the start of a new school year at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and as a second-year student in the coordinated Masters of Science in Public Health and Dietetics program in the middle of her dietetic internship, I normally would be away working with patients at the hospital. But I was lucky enough to spend this week with the Center for a Livable Future, which also meant I was back at school for the first day of school!

On Tuesday, I helped out at the MPH student activities fair—eating pizza, admiring first-day-of-school outfits, getting to know the awesome CLF staff, catching up with friends back from summer vacation and summer internships, and introducing newbies to CLF. Although I’d never officially worked with CLF, I’ve participated in a number of their projects, primarily through taking the Baltimore Food Systems course. I was thus able to answer most questions and not reveal my secret identity as the intern unless asked a question I couldn’t answer.

After the activities fair, I helped out with the CSA. The leftover CSA shares are donated to the Franciscan Center, a local organization I really admire. Among other things, the Franciscan Center runs a soup kitchen. After the CSA shares were given out, my preceptor Allison and I went to the Franciscan Center to help chop vegetables for a ratatouille to make things easier for the cook the next day.

On Thursday, I spent the whole day volunteering at the Franciscan Center. It’s such a neat organization whose mission is to provide services for economically disenfranchised people in Baltimore and show them that they are worthy of being treated with dignity. In the morning and early afternoon, I helped on the tray-line. We served 417 people beef stew, rice, veggies, and dessert. In the late afternoon, I helped distribute CSA shares at the Franciscan Center as part of their Fresh Harvest CSA Project and interview people about their experience with the previous week’s share. I really enjoyed interacting with the staff and clients at the Franciscan Center.

On Wednesday, I met Sheryl, the dietitian at Food Depot, a supermarket in West Baltimore that seeks to provide inexpensive fresh produce and nutrition support to people living in food deserts. Sheryl and I gave out samples of an easy and healthy stuffed pepper soup recipe. Customers were surprised at how good the soup tasted and how it costed only six dollars to make a large pot! I enjoyed being able to show customers how easy and inexpensive eating healthy can be. Customers with families of eight or more were especially appreciative of this recipe.

Sheryl is an amazing lady. In the words of a customer, “She just looks so nice! Like I’d like her to be my mom.” One customer with numerous nutrition issues including obesity and potassium deficiency talked to us for a while. She was buying a lot of bananas and said that she ate three bananas a day. Sheryl explained to her that bananas have a lot of calories and suggested foods with fewer calories but a comparable amount of potassium and then printed her some handouts. At the hospital, you wonder how much of the information your patients are absorbing; whereas, at the supermarket, you can see the context of what the customer, the patient, actually purchases and feel that your information is really appropriate and useful.

The rest of my time at CLF was spent learning about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I listened to the first meeting of the advisory committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and was tasked with coming up with incorporating sustainability into the guidelines. This was really interesting to learn and think about. In college, I double majored in environmental science and a self-designed major centered around topics in food sustainability, but recently I have been in the clinical world and have not thought much about these issues. The only way to change the unsustainable way in which food is produced currently is to shift consumer demand, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can at least suggest to Americans how to eat sustainably. In my paper, I suggested recommending eating locally and seasonally, eating less meat, and reducing food waste by buying and eating only what you need.

As I am finishing up this blog entry, my week at CLF is comes to its bitter but inevitable end. CLF, the Franciscan Center, and Food Depot are all organizations that I admire and had wanted to learn more about. My experiences this week, combined with the excitement of the first day of school, made this week perfect. Working at the hospital, I often get lost in the world of disease treatment. I think clinical dietitians have a really important job, taking care of sick people and teaching them how to stay away from the hospital once they get better. But, I often feel a lack of context at the hospital, like I could ask patients where they were from and what foods they like to eat, but I couldn’t really experience it. In the community, it is often easier to understand your patients and what they need. This week reminded me of what I am really passionate about—keeping people away from the hospital and ensuring that we will all have safe and nutritious foods for generations to come.

Trying New Things: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 1) – by Khrysta Baig
Food Systems and Patient Care: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 2) – by Marie Spiker
Hands On in the Community: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 3) – by Bernice Chu
The Nutritional Environment: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 4) – by Caitlin Krekel
Small and Big Pictures: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 5) – by Candice Gormley

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