This past summer, I volunteered at a student-run free diabetes clinic through my university. Several disciplines, such as medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, participate. Since I’ve always been interested in diabetes, and I work part-time doing diabetes research, I thought my knowledge could be a great contribution. I can easily describe the pathophysiology of diabetes, the specifics of carbohydrate counting, and different types of insulin. But this clinic would serve a much greater benefit to me — it helped me set aside my technical jargon so that I could more effectively counsel and communicate with patients.
As dietetics students, we are used to taking something as simple as food and delving into the details of macronutrients and how food components are processed by our bodies. It is easy to forget how esoteric this knowledge is and what little help it may be to an average person. At my diabetes clinic, I have learned to slow down and simplify — explaining what a carbohydrate is or how a body with diabetes handles carbohydrates. It has been a rewarding challenge. It is surprising how difficult it can sometimes be to put these concepts in layman’s terms, but the sense of accomplishment in providing palpable information to people is invaluable.
This experience has shown me how important it is for students to get involved with their community. Here are some ways to seek out leadership opportunities around you:
Reach out to your local food bank or pantry.
See what nutrition education programs they offer, or check into if they are looking to start one. Helping found such a program from the ground up could turn into valuable experience down the road, and be an added benefit to your resume.
Stop by your local grocery store.
Offer to share your knowledge of smart shopping or help customers read food labels. This will also help you keep up to date with what the average consumer has on his or her mind.
Get in contact with free clinics
Look at a student-run health clinic or WIC and find out if you can provide supervised nutrition counseling to their patients. This can be as much of a learning experience for you as it is for the people you counsel.
My volunteering experience is making me more and more comfortable interacting with people and future patients, and I feel ready to conquer my clinical rotation. Although an obvious benefit of community service is to the community, it will also benefit me as a student and future dietitian.