Questions about my Nutrition Master’s program:
1. Why did you choose this instead of getting an RD or this program in particular?
The dietitian route wasn’t for me because it didn’t have as intrinsic a connection to medicine and wellness as I wanted, and I wasn’t drawn to the RD curriculum. It would have been an expensive ends to justify the means, especially since I am also going to PA school (essentially just doing it for the licensure, and then having to supplement my education afterwards). For this reason, I chose the online program, which makes me eligible to be a nutritionist, not a dietitian. While I will not have the RD certification, which does prevent me from getting certain jobs and working in a hospital, the education was not one that I aligned with.
2. Would your Master’s make you a nutritionist or an RD?
The degree makes you eligible to sit for a certified nutritionist exam, however it does not leave you eligible to become a Registered Dietitian. I think this would hinder your ability to apply for some jobs, but in my opinion, the information is more relevant than what you would learn in a dietetics program. I know because I began a dietetics program and then dropped out because I wasn’t really learning anything about nutrition and chronic illness. Plus, other individuals in your classes / online forums come from so many different backgrounds that you’re able to see paths that they chose (chiropractors, health coaches, physicians, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, etc.) The degree allows you to do whatever you’d like with it. I am not able to answer your question directly because I know that PA school is my end goal and the information I’m learning in this Master’s will supplement what I will learn in PA school, but from my understanding you are able to do a lot with the information you learn in this program. This program allows you to sit for certification as: Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) or Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition (DACBN). People who graduate from it become: health and wellness coaches, clinical nutritionists in private practice, prevention and wellness experts, health directors, employee health coordinators, entrepreneurs, corporate wellness managers, authors, public policy experts, professors, nutrition advocacy experts, lecturers, nutrition experts in public service or private industry, or nutritionists in clinical / medical practice.
3. Do you have any suggested classes you have enjoyed taking?
I’ve loved all the classes in the program! For a list of the available ones, click here.
4. Were you presented with a lot of information you wanted to challenge for validity based on your own outside learning / knowledge?
In this program, no. Had I enrolled in another RD program, maybe yes.
5. Do you think masters in nutrition is the best route for learning food science / worth it i.e., some of the nutrition education out there isn’t based on the most recent info (food pyramid, hospital nutritionist often including or promoting highly processed and garbage food to patients, and a lack of total wellness focus in clinical setting).
It totally depends on what program you enroll in. I chose to do the program at University of Western States because of this issue. I was accepted and enrolled in an RD program, and the course list included classes in food science / management. I also experienced the pamphlets that RDs were giving patients (and saw the diet plans for chronically ill patients) while working at the hospital. The recommended advice was not in line with what I thought was best, and I don’t think I’ll be recommending low-sugar yogurt, gingersnaps, and egg substitutes to future patients. This was not the focus I wanted, and so I decided to forego the program. My program, in contrast, is based on the most recent nutrition research, and I am learning things that I think will be much more beneficial to my future practice: intestinal imbalances, inflammation, herbalism, detox and biotransformational pathways, sports nutrition and fitness, and the psychology of eating and wellness, for example.
6. What prerequisites did you need to get that training?
One course in biology, one course in physiology or anatomy and physiology, one course in biochemistry, one course in nutrition, and one course in medical terminology (this is waived if you have previous healthcare experience). I did all of these in the classroom, as I needed them for PA school, though there is a program through the school that you can do them. More on that here.
7. What is the time commitment for the program?
2-3 hours per credit a week. I usually took 2 or 3 classes per semester (each ranged from 2-4 credits), so my time commitment was anywhere from ~20-25 hours per week.
8. Were you working while taking the program?
When I first started the program, I was working at the hospital ~30 hours a week, putting in ~20 hours per week to the program, and blogging / Instagramming on the side. It was tough, but I loved it all, so it was doable. In general, I find I’m able to carve out time for the things that matter most to me, so I made the time. Granted, I am single and in my early 20s with no children, so this time commitment is certainly not realistic for all.
9. Do you get good feedback from professors and classmates?
Yes! Professors are so accessible through emails and forums, and you’re required to write in forums and comment on other students post every week. It’s a very collaborative experience. Plus, the students in my classes are just so brilliant. Many come from far more educationally advanced backgrounds than me – RDs, nutritionists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, etc. They bring such rich and knowledgable input to all of the forums. Honestly, I find I learn just as much from their contributions as I do with lectures. It is admittedly a bit overwhelming, and taking the time to sift through everything in the forums is very time consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, the program has just so much to offer.
10. While the program did work for me, I did speak to someone who found it wasn’t a good fit. I want to give the most well-rounded description of the program, so here is her testimonial / why she decided to drop it:
“What works for me, might not for someone else. There are so many different factors that go into it. I actually emailed 11 grads of the certificate program telling them about my dilemma and asking if they felt they needed their masters to do private practice, what they honestly thought about the program, if they had to do it again would they have done both their masters and the program or for those without a masters, did they feel like they still needed it after the program. Everyone replied to me! 3 people talked about everything over the phone. Every single one said the program was amazing. One RD working in SC did both UWS masters and the program and said if she had to do it all over again, the program would have been enough, but she wants to teach eventually so she knew she needed the MS. It was really helpful getting everyones feedback. A few people said a masters cant hurt; which I totally agree with.
This program was truly life changing for me. It has impacted the way I view food, wellness, and medicine. It is totally comprehensive, even covering the psychology of eating as well as botanical medicine. You can even choose to partake in an internship as one or two of your courses, as well as choose electives that best match your interests. Each week, you’re exposed to not only lectures but current nutrition research, as well as access to research databases for your own personal use (this was huge for me because it allowed far more in depth blog posts). I love that I can do it completely at my computer, and that my professors are BRILLIANT. And that I am learning so much from classmates each day in the online forums. I am so very confident that it will totally change my capabilities as a future practitioner. For a full review of my program, check out this post.
Questions about PA school:
1. Have you worked at a hospital or clinic for all the required shadowing hours?
Yes, upon graduating I took a CNA course. I got a job at a hospital as a float PCA. This stands for patient care assistant and is essentially a nurse’s aid, performing tasks like vital signs, blood sugars, and EKG’s, and helping with daily living activities like ambulation, getting dressed / washed up, and assisting with meals / going to the bathroom. I liked being in the float pool because it allowed me a vast array of experience. Each day I was sent to one of seven floors: telemetry, oncology, ICU, geriatrics, orthopedics, general surgery, or pediatrics. I had approximately 2200-2500 hours at the time of application.
2. What are key aspects that you look for in PA school that make you want to go there?
Ideally, I want an emphasis on preventive medicine or something beyond traditional western medicine. Tufts offers a class in Nutrition, BU offers a class in preventive medicine, PCOM is a PA program in a DO school, which focuses on osteopathy and a more holistic view of healthcare, OHSU offers classes called Gut and Metabolism and Hormonal Regulation and Reproduction, and Duke is associated with an Integrative medicine facility. These were my top 5 schools. I also looked for more than one elective, as this allows a broader and more personalized rotation experience.
3. Why not MD?
I am collaborative rather than competitive and always have been (I used to tickle soccer players to get the ball away from them. That’s when my parents thought oh perhaps she would excel more in a dance class). For this reason, I don’t think I would enjoy the climate of med school – so cutthroat, competitive and high stakes. Most PA schools genuinely want all students to pass and learn the material, and hence there is no ranking or valedictorian system. I also wanted more time to spend honing different specialties that will supplement my knowledge a healthcare provider – NUTRITION! Med school is both time and financially more consuming, and would prevent me from spending as much time on my nutrition studies and having them contribute to a medical background. Furthermore, I think there is so much I could do with a nutrition background, be that in dermatology, gastroenterology or just family practice. Choosing to go the PA route means I can easily switch between these disciplines, rather than having to commit to one / doing an entirely new residency.
4. What were your statistics before applying?
I had 2200-2500 hands on patient care hours. I worked as a PCA in the float pool at a nearby hospital. I also had about 200 hours volunteer work (through Cooking Matters as a nutrition instructor / classroom assistant). My overall GPA was a 3.79 and my science GPA was a 3.85. At the time of my application I was about half way through my Master’s in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. I was offered seats at Tufts University and Northeastern University, and received interviews at 5 schools, though didn’t take all of them after gaining acceptance to programs I liked.
5. Do you feel PA school is worth it?
100%. A resounding roar of yes. I was actually not excited to start when August rolled around. I kind of went into it knowing if I didn’t like it, that was okay because I had other options and I had another Master’s degree already. And my expectations were exceeded in every realm. My classmates are like-minded, curious, kind, hilarious, and just so wonderful, and being alongside them every day is so motivating to represent the PA field. My professors are inspiring and open to alternative treatments and ways of thought. It’s 2 years, a fraction of the cost of med school, pays well, you have autonomy when practicing, can easily switch between disciplines without having to do another residency or rotation, and is just a badass profession.
6. What’s your plan for next semester? How to keep the stress and anxiety at bay?
At the time of writing this, I just finished my first semester of school. Admittedly it was hell on earth, and is the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. Being in a classroom for 9 hours a day, followed by 2-5 hours of studying afterwards is just downright draining. I wish I had stayed on top of things better during the week during first semester, rather than cramming 16 hours of studying in on the weekends. So my goal is to stay on campus and review the material THAT DAY, rather than waiting and telling myself I’ll do it the following day, and then pushing it off until the exam was coming up. I also wasn’t very efficient with my studying – rewriting all PowerPoints, studying while not very focused, and not taking breaks. Group study actually ended up being really effective for me, and I’ll try to do this earlier on in my studying this next semester. I also want to prioritize my important mediators: journaling, making time to do some breathing exercises, exercise, seeing friends, and cleaning my room. I cannot function when my study space is a disastrous mess. For a list of more 2018 resolutions, check out this post.
5. What’s been the hardest part of going back to school?
The sitting all day – feeling restless and cooped up in a classroom, whereas my days used to be filled with more movement. Because of back injury in high school, I have pain whenever I’m sitting for too long. I try to remedy this by seeing a chiropractor every few weeks. And also taking a 20-30 minute walk on my lunch break and stretching in between classes when we have a brief 5 minutes (for more tips on easy movement during the day, check out this post). I also really, really miss blogging. I have so many ideas for new content, and very unfortunately I’m limited to doing this on weekends. I strive to singularly focus on school during week days, otherwise my studying isn’t very efficient. Multitasking never really works in my favor. But I just have to remember that school is brief and temporary, and I’ll have time over breaks and when I finish. As of now, I’m taking time to invest in my future.
6. Do you regret enrolling in your program?
NO. Even in moments of absolute despair and when really really cool opportunities present themselves, I feel like I made the right decision and I am on my path. Keeping this in mind when I have NO motivation to study is really helpful.
7. Did you apply to PA school during undergrad?
No. I got my undergrad in psychology. When I graduated I took the necessary pre-reqs at community colleges / state schools, got my CNA, and worked at a hospital while taking courses. In total, I took 3 years off in between undergrad and PA school. I’m so glad I did this!!! Truthfully, PA school tends to be an older crowd, and it’s not uncommon to take some time and get experience before starting. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to in the program is glad they’re doing it when a bit older (not to say that 26 is by any means old). You need a bit of maturity to face the workload in my opinion.
8. How do you know if you’ll be allowed to integrate nutrition in your PA practice?
Point blank, I don’t. I will have to find and choose to align with a physician who has a similar mentality. Or work in an integrative medicine office. Truthfully, I don’t think this will be too difficult. Most patients come to their physicians and providers with questions from self-research. I haven’t faced any backlash yet re: talking about nutrition or probiotics with patients, and it makes you stand out. It also gives you an opportunity to educate the physician you choose to be alongside.
9. Why not NP?
I don’t have an RN background, so I would have had to do the 1 year accelerated nursing program, followed by the 2 year NP program. This was more expensive from a monetary and time perspective. I also want to be able to switch between specialties, rather than be trained in one and not be able to move within the field.
10. Can you incorporate functional medicine and nutrition into a PA practice?
Truthfully, I don’t know! I don’t want to do functional medicine right away, as I don’t have a solid enough background and experience in western medicine quite yet. But I do know I was able to integrate nutrition into my rotations even as a student! More about that here.
1. How old are you?
2. Tips for restlessness / falling asleep
Put your phone away a half hour before going to bed, and read something. And leave your phone out of reach – this also incentivizes getting up to shut your alarm clock off in the morning. I like Rupi Kaur’s books (The Sun and Her Flowers / Milk and Honey). I’ll also sometimes put a meditation app on (Headspace is the one I use). Other tips for sleep / sleep habits can be found here.
3. Are you introverted or extroverted?
Definitely introverted. I love being social, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed I need some serious alone time. So maybe an extroverted introvert?
4. What is your schedule like in PA school? What does a typical day look like.
This one’s a real doozy. If I don’t have an exam, I’m up at 5, I exercise, I go to class from 8-5, I study from 5-9. I clean out my tupperware, I prepare new tupperware, I go to bed and repeat. If I do have an exam, I’m up at a 5:30-6, I get to campus early, and review notes. THE THRILL OF IT ALL!!!
5. How have you balanced your regular way of eating and exercise with keeping up with your studies, your blogger life, and having a social life?
Things get messy, but for the most part I schedule things pretty tightly. In terms of eating, I do my meal prep on weekends. This typically lasts me until Friday, and then I’ll utilize smoothies or other non-perishable items. I’m also more motivated to study when I feel good and eat well, so knowing the end goal is extremely helpful. When I exercise, I’m more awake in class and more motivated to answer questions and be engaged with the material, so again having this end goal in mind – knowing these behaviors result in better exam scores and better understanding of material – is hugely motivational.
Blog things I reserve only for weekends, and then I space them out during the week from the backlog. Otherwise, I’m too distracted from studying during the week.
In terms of a social life, I always take Friday nights off. Non-negotiable. I also try to include my friends in whatever I have scheduled for myself, be that a workout, or getting coffee, or grabbing lunch / dinner.
6. How did you grow your following?
I posted twice a day, created a similar aesthetic for my photos, used natural lighting, and connected with similar accounts in the community. Find something that makes you different and unique and highlight that in each post. And don’t worry about the following! Focus on spreading your message and why you wanted to start an account in the first place.
7. Are you vegan? Vegetarian? Paleo?
No to all of the above. For a whole post on my food philosophy, click here.
8. What do you use for makeup?
Jane Iredale mascara, RMS uncover up, and Cocokind Skincare facial powders, primer, and blush.
1. How did you ultimately decide on your school [double master’s] / career trajectory?
My dad is an emergency medicine physician and my mom is practicing functional medicine consultant. I grew up with those two backgrounds and wanted to find a way to have a happy marriage (pun intended, duh) of the two. I think our healthcare system is broken in that we treat the symptom, not the root problem. I saw this first hand when I was working in the hospital, and the language of medicine was one of surviving, not thriving. I am drawn to medicine, but a different, more robust and comprehensive approach to healing. Since med school / PA school get a cumulative of ~8 hours of nutrition background, I knew I needed to supplement my nutrition education in order to be a more well-rounded practitioner. Rather than applying to med school, I instead wanted two master’s: one in nutrition, one as a PA.
2. Any suggestions on how to juggle it all without breaking the bank? Or ways to make money while going to school full-time?
Keeping track of expenses and knowing exactly how much you’re spending is crucial. I didn’t realize how much the little things were adding up for me: monthly subscriptions like news and meditation apps, music services, Netflix, hulu, website hosting, exercise subscriptions, gym memberships, etc. You may not feel the need or ability to pay for all of these things, and could consider cutting back. I also find meal planning to be extremely beneficial for budgeting. This way you’re saving time, money, and preventing food from going bad. Shopping at Trader Joe’s or buying organic from stores like Stop and Shop or Price Chopper was also really helpful for me – literally cut my grocery bill in half. You could also try to find a job where you work remotely on your computer – editing, ghost writing, blogging, etc. This way you can work from the comfort of home (saving time commuting) and on your own time.
3. How did you make it happen as Master’s programs are often really expensive plus PA debt ahead. I’m interested in nutrition and just finished by premed post-bacc pre reqs but concerted about the viability of getting into debt for a masters but also so many med schools hardly have nutrition in the curriculum!!
This is a tough one. I had a hefty scholarship from undergrad / my parents helped me out and then did all of my prereqs at local / community colleges. The program I’m doing right now is significantly less expensive than RD programs. Point bland, PA school is just crazy expensive, but the payout is immediately worth it, unlike med school where you first have to go through underpaid internships and residencies. I guess the only thing I think of is payback down the line. And knowing that although I’m spending a lot of money, I know that this path will give me a diverse background and lead me to help the most amount of people.
4. Any advice in an undergrad major? And after the bachelors degree?
In order to be accepted into the online program, I needed all of the prereqs necessary for PA school (bio 1&2, chem 1&2, organic chemistry, biochem, microbio, a&p 1&2, statistics, psychology), so these are the courses I would recommend, regardless of major. A nutrition major, biology major, or chemistry major would cover all of these, I believe. Though I think it depends on the school. As long as she completes all of the courses necessary for something like a pre-med track, she’ll be more than set. After the bachelor’s totally depends on what she wants to do! She could do an online program like I’m doing right now (University of Western States), or go an RD track, nursing, med school, dental school or PA school. The possibilities are endless or health care!
5. What functional medicine training have you had?
Just this program! The University of Western States program is a Master’s in human nutrition and functional medicine.
6. Where will you be practicing – online? FaceTime? Private practice?
I’m not sure yet! I could either see patients online or in an office setting. I’d love to work for an integrative medicine facility, like The Cleveland Clinic or UltraWellness Center. As long as I can align with a functional medicine physician who echoes my philosophy of integrating nutrition into a medical practice, I’ll be pumped!
7. Do you recommend any books on nutrition? For a full list of books, check out my book shelf.
- The Happiness Diet – Tyler Grahama and Drew Ramsey
- The Food-Mood Solution – Jack Challem
- The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution – Trudy Scott
- The Chronic Stress Crisis – William G. Timmins, ND
- The Immune System Recovery Plan – Susan Blum
- It Starts with Food – Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
- Restoring Your Digestive Health – Jordan S Rubin and Joseph Bracco
- The Gerson Therapy – Charlotte Gerson and Morton Walker
- Mindful Eating – Jan Chozen Bay
- The Psychology of Eating and Drinking – Alexandra W. Logue
- The Mindful Diet – Ruth Q Wolves and Beth Reardon
- Healing with Whole Foods – Paul Pitchford
8. Do you recommend doing the integrative nutrition health coach course? I am unable to get into a bachelors program for nutrition because I don’t have any sciences and they are a prerequisite there.
Depends on what you want to do. I want a more clinical and hard science background so it wasn’t the right choice for me. But for others, it fits more with their goals. For a list of other online nutrition education programs, click here.
9. What are your favorite podcasts? For a full list of podcast recommendations, check out this post.
- Modern Love
- Dear Sugar Radio
- Hidden Brain
- How I Built This
- The Good Life Project
- Bulletproof Radio
- Revolution Health Radio
- Ted Radio Hour
- Balanced Bites Podcast
Interested in collaborating? All inquiries sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi! I was just wondering how you kept track of your hours of patient care as you were a CNA. I start working as a CNA this summer and I want to make sure I have all of the information logged somehow in order to be prepared for applying for PA school! Also, thank you for the amazing post! As a college student who has struggled with deciding a career path because of my belief in functional and preventative medicine, I find it comforting to see that someone else has shared my beliefs. Best of luck at Northeastern!
The software system at worked tracked my hours! I had to log in and log out each time I started / ended a shift so all I had to do was call HR and ask them to send a record of the hours to me. And thank you!! Best of luck! xo
Thanks for all of this information. I have my clients asking me these things all the time and I immediately point them your way. You are a light and a blessing. Thanks for your positivity and dedication to functional health.
Thank you so much, Ashlee! So grateful for your kind words!! You rock! xo