As part of the last semester of my program at the University of Western States, I was required to write a brief synopsis of my experience with the program. I share it with you here to clear up some further questions. To learn more about the program, check out my about page, FAQ, and online integrative nutrition courses.
Prior to this program, I had taken one introductory nutrition course through a local community college. The information covered was far from extensive, and instead was based on FDA guidelines and regulations. Simply put, it was uninspiring, and the instructor often misspelled the word watermelon, making it clear that nutrition was not her passion. It was instead my mom’s fierce advocacy for nutrition as medicine that fueled the fire.
After college, I was torn between the field of nutrition and medicine (my mom loves nutrition and my dad is an Emergency Medicine physician), and thought they were mutually exclusive in terms of programs to apply to. I took all the necessary prerequisites for a dietetics program, with the intention that I would later go to PA school and marry the two interests. After completing the required classes, I applied and enrolled in a dietetics program, and felt as though my path was finally being carved before me. And then I received the class syllabus for the 3 year program. Classes like food management and kitchen engineering littered the page, and I felt entirely disheartened. What I really wanted was a program that married nutrition and medicine, rather than treating each of the subjects as separate entities.
I began voraciously researching other programs (at this point it was early September), and stumbled upon UWS. I took one glance at the course list and knew this was the far better fit. I still wanted to pursue my interest in medicine, so while I was in the program, I started working at a nearby hospital as a patient care assistant in the float pool (meaning I traveled to different floors each day: cardiac, oncology, orthopedics, surgical, ICU, geriatric, and pediatric). While the patient load was vast and diverse, there was one common theme: poor nutrition resulted in returning patients. It was here that I realized sometimes medicine is a language of existing, rather than thriving. During this time, my passion for nutrition continued to burgeon, and I realized more than ever the importance of the education I was getting through UWS. And I was so excited to bring it to a larger medical community, as I was also accepted into a PA program.
What I liked most about the UWS program was the flexibility. I was working, applying to PA school, and getting my blog off the ground when I began. And I was able to carve out little moments to return to the world of forums or papers or quizzes, rather than having to drive to class and sit in a classroom for extended periods.
There was definitely a learning curve when I first began. It was hard to know what to focus on and spend the majority of my efforts on, as quite honestly, reading every single comment in a forum, while keeping up with all of the readings and research studies felt very near impossible. Especially when all of this material felt very new to me, and some of the studies seemed extremely advanced. I absolutely loved the IFN textbook readings even when they were lengthy, but would get frustrated by the forums, especially if they seemed unrelated to the material that week. It sometimes felt like so much that I was just getting bits and pieces of each part, rather than being able to dive completely into a certain area. Though I know this is standard for any Master’s or advanced degree program. Like putting your mouth in front of a fire hydrant and trying to take it all in, I was once told.
I will also include a testimonial from a friend who started the program, but dropped it, as she felt it wasn’t a good fit for her:
“The lectures and power points I got the most out of but never had the time to go through them more than once. I want so badly to read journals and articles and be like eureka!, that’s amazing! But my brain just shuts off and I have a hard time retaining any of the information. I felt like I wasn’t getting anything from the forums. Even when I read something super interesting it was information overload and I’d walk away without anything really sticking. So I gave it a try, I was doing SO well, but it just started to feel like it wasn’t right for me after all. Everyone who responded to me said they learned the most by seeing patients, which is absolutely true. I learn by repetition (which I didn’t have the time to get at UWS) and by doing (which I’m not doing yet because I can’t really market myself as a functional RD yet). I guess I wanted more of a fast track to put me in a place where I could start seeing patients and really start making this come to life for me.”
I also had a hard time remembering all of the information. It is only now coming together as I go through and review each class. What was most helpful for me was taking extensive notes in each of the classes each week – on class work, lectures, and research studies. Even if I didn’t have the time to go back and read them during the actual semester, I am now reviewing and making comprehensive study guides based off of those notes. I did not take extensive notes on the forums, though it was the forums I felt I was spending a lot of time on during the actual semester, and that ate up a lot of time that I could have been spending reviewing notes. I know I could have carved out this time, but I tried to stay in the “3 hours per credit” spent studying rule, for my own sanity’s sake.
I am currently spending far more time this semester than any other 2.0 credit course I’m taking. Right now, I am spending approximately 25 hours per week studying and writing my paper – going through all past notes of previous semesters as well as researching, as 7-10 pages single space 10 point font is pretty lengthy. It feels super overwhelming right now, and I even cried on the phone when discussing my paper topic (sorry again about that…). I guess I kind of compare this paper to the forums. While I can see the value, I really just want to be spending the majority of my time sifting through all of my notes, cementing them to memory, and being in a clinical setting where these notes become reality. The paper doesn’t feel like it’s helping me in any way, just another thing on the to do list. Very ironically I chose to do my paper on 5 different adaptogens and their ability to help with stress induced fatigue and burn out syndrome, and I am feeling a bit burnt out doing so.
I would instead rather be required to do a semester long internship and the cumulative exam. Or have the paper be 5 pages double spaced in length with an internship or some sort of required clinical experience. I am currently doing an internship this semester (not for course credit, but because I need to see my notes in practice to really remember them and see where they’re applicable). I know some students come from chiropractic and acupuncture and RD backgrounds, in which case they see patients all day long and perhaps wouldn’t need this as much as someone newer to the field, but maybe they could have the option to do the paper and others could do clinical setting?
I would have loved to do the internship as an elective, but I really wanted to take Botanical Medicine and the Psychology of Eating and Drinking. I would have preferred not to have taken Sports Nutrition, as I found some of this information to be outdated and conflict with other information in other courses, and instead used that to do an internship.
Other than that course, however, I really enjoyed each one offered. The hormone class was amazing, and Dr. Walsh is one of the best professors I’ve had to date. I also loved Dr. Minich’s detox course and the GI Imbalances course. The whole program far exceeded my expectations and will be extremely transformative in the way I view medicine moving forward. If anything, I’m nervous I won’t agree with the material presented in my PA program I’ll be starting in the Fall! But from this Master’s, I am equipped with materials and curiosity. Looking up studies, delving into research, asking why, asking how, and being a curious consumer (of research and of food) has been ignited, and I have the program to thank for that. I have learned so much, and while it is overwhelming, I am thrilled to have been able to participate.
While some of the earlier forums were a bit bothersome, the ones in later classes (hormone, GI, immune, detox) were extremely helpful. Having such a diverse background of students made for the most interesting discussions and I then realized too how little I know. Though this was never disheartening, always motivating. I am humbled to have been able to read the insights of some incredibly bright students and humans. I hope I have access to these forums and lectures indefinitely, as they’ll be pivotal for questions I have in the future both in PA school and a later healthcare practitioner.
As of right now, I am admittedly pretty unsure of a lot of topics. Persistence and diligence in studying will cement concepts, so that is what I am trying to do during this latter half of the semester. I am, however, confident in my ability to ask questions and research and to find an answer (or at least a partial one) if I don’t know it right away. My background and college courses is largely in classes where there was a definitive answer, and I’m finding that in functional medicine that is not always the case. It takes far more than memorization, and very mindful, calculated thinking to reach a possible conclusion.
I know that as I continue on to PA school and beyond, my professional skills will continue to be honed, and I look forward to the day that I can (hopefully) be one of my classmates in a forum with such incredible thoughtfulness and insight into a patient case that will change the course of that patient’s life.
Thank you so much for this incredible program and for all the hard work that goes into it!