In this week’s spotlight I’m featuring Jeff Toler, MBA, RD, LD who works for the Tarrant County Public Heath Department in Texas as the Southwest WIC Clinic Supervisor and does side work as wellness/weight management consultant. WIC, which stands for Women, Infants and Children is a federally-funded free nutrition program that helps pregnant women, new mothers and young children eat well, learn about nutrition and stay healthy. Nutrition education and counseling, nutritious foods and help accessing health care are provided to middle to low-income women, infants, and children free of charge.
Jeff, tell us a little about where you started and how you got where you are today. I began my studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas not really knowing what I wanted for a career, then found myself at Ole Miss taking classes in preparation for vet school. While I found those classes fascinating, especially genetics and immunology, I was not 100% committed to vet school. I ended moving back to Fort Worth which allowed me to focus on my true career passion, nutrition. Before coming to Tarrant County Public Health, I was a clinical dietitian at Harris Southwest Hospital in Fort Worth. That one year of clinical work gave me a great understanding of healthcare and I chose not to continue to work in a hospital setting due to the fact that all hospitals never close. Plus, I wanted to work with children. I also do some personal nutrition consulting on the side and give nutritional seminars to different groups here locally when I get the opportunity.
What first got you interested in nutrition? I was borderline OCD into weight training and after 6 years of pushing my body to a competition level, I realized I needed help with “eating right,” but had no one to turn to for help. I was asking all the wrong people what to eat and how to “get big,” when it hit me… I wanted to be the one to tell people what to eat for a living. So off I went to Texas Christian University to major in nutrition. Little did I know how extensive the curriculum is to become a registered dietitian, but I was sure it was the right choice for me.
What’s a typical day like for you now? As a WIC RD, my days are spent seeing patients, helping problem-solve with moms to optimize the health of their child. On average I will have several premies to help treat and procure a high calorie regimen to allow them to further develop. I have about 3500 patients at my Southwest WIC clinic and I often travel to rural locations such as Azle, Texas to help out when needed.
What is your ultimate career goal? My day job as an RD for WIC allows me to work with kids, which is better than most other options out there for me. My ultimate career goal would be to work in wellness 100% of the time, perhaps with a sports team here locally in DFW.
Starting this month, I will be helping to initiate a wellness program that will offer comprehensive wellness services available to all Ft Worth customers of Perrone Pharmacy. I will be choosing products, doing nutritional counseling, helping to design the counseling center and be part of a team that includes pharmacists and an acupuncturist. It is exciting to help build a program like this from the ground up. Our goal at Perrone will be to not only improve the health of the 600+ customers who currently order specialty compounds (vitamins), but to decrease the amount of prescription medications taken by those whose condition can be improved through diet modification.
What’s the best part of your day as an RD? Seeing a child thrive after a compromised start in life gives me a great sense of accomplishment and their smiles make my day.
What is your biggest challenge? Dispelling the food myths out there the media dishes out that the misinformed will interpret as gospel, thus making us RDs work harder to explain what’s the correct way to go about achieving a healthy weight.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? Wow, that’s a tough one. My favorite dish used to be offered at Maggiano’s in Dallas, eggplant mostaccioli, but no mas. I used to drive from Ft Worth, eat one order there then order another to take home for the next couple days. Now, my favorite meal is at Arco Iris in Tampa. I’m a huge fan of Cuban food. Nothing beats fried plantains, black beans, yellow rice, and shredded spicy pork.
Is their any food you couldn’t live without? Can’t live without my sweet potato; try them at Saltgrass with cinnamon butter.
What food-related book or documentary do you think everyone needs to see? Has to be Supersize Me.
What is the top tip you give your clients, patients and friends? Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are full. Make 90% of your calories from solid foods, not liquids.
What is your favorite thing to do or place to go where you live? Has to be outdoors. “Nature is cheaper than therapy.”
How has your Masters in Business Administration helped you in your career as an RD? Would you recommend an MBA or another Masters program (or higher education in general) to those looking to become an RD or RDs looking to further their career? Having my MBA has given me business awareness which allows me to always stay ahead of the curve when it comes to decision making, knowing how to best serve and retain the customer. As an RD, the ability to communicate well is paramount and getting my MBA helped forge my public speaking skills and gave me confidence in the workplace.
I would definitely recommend graduate school for RDs and/or students looking for a coordinated program. Many institutions have programs where you can get both an MS and an RD. Having 2 degrees has allowed me to explore opportunities that would not have been available otherwise. Plus, graduate school is so different (in a good way) than undergrad. You teach yourself 75% of the time and the professors respect you much more. Get ready to read a lot if a master’s is what you are thinking about doing, but it’s worthwhile for sure.
As a male RD in a female dominated field, do you have any advice for guys looking to get into a nutrition-related career? As a male dietitian, I am definitely in the minority no matter the venue but that has its advantages. It separates you from the majority of dietitians just from a gender standpoint and that alone may provide opportunities you wouldn’t find otherwise. Secondly, being a male dietitian allows me to offer nutrition advice to the boys I coach in Little League that otherwise would have not had the chance to use optimal nutrition as an advantage at a young age. For the guys out there thinking about nutrition as their major, I would strongly advise you to consider sales/marketing as a minor. A clinical position for an RD won’t completely support a family very well. Networking is a must for us all, and for guys I feel you must be unique in the service(s) you offer. A master’s in public health may be on my horizon and would be my first suggestion for anyone who is an RD and wants to continue with a graduate degree. You can never stop learning and you can never have too many degrees.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in a career in nutrition? Explore as many work sites as possible for an RD, never say never, and network your tail off. Ask yourself why are you choosing nutrition and try your best to get into a coordinated program with and internship and undergrad combined instead of applying after graduation.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @jeffstoler or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for being part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series!
To check out more interviews with RD’s from around the country, check out my Dietitian Spotlight Series page.