Selfless service, respect, teamwork. These are values instilled in Topacio A. Ortiz, RDN, LMNT, throughout life.
At age 17, Ortiz joined the military and is a medic in the Nebraska Army National Guard. A career in nursing felt like an obvious choice until she realized how many patients have chronic illnesses that could have been prevented. “My focus shifted from the acute side of health care to overall wellness and chronic illness prevention,” she says. “It wasn’t until I took my first college nutrition course that I started to understand the substantive role nutrition plays in general wellness and disease prevention.”
While in graduate school, Ortiz participated in a study abroad opportunity in Zambia. Focusing on food security, health and nutrition, the students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Mississippi partnership spent the summer working with the Copperbelt University School of Medicine in Ndola, Zambia. “As a Mexican-American who focuses on Spanish-speaking populations and rarely has to think about micronutrient deficiencies, I took this opportunity to move out of my comfort zone and learn about an entirely different context and culture in a country in the throes of a nutrition transition,” Ortiz says.
In 2015, Ortiz began working with the Nebraska Extension as an assistant in the Nutrition Education Program, supporting mainly Spanish-speaking families with limited resources. About four years later, she joined the Omaha VA Medical Center’s MOVE! Weight Management Program as a clinical dietitian, encouraging healthful eating and physical activity for veterans. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My career path changed once again when the pandemic hit,” Ortiz says. “I worked with the state of Nebraska’s COVID Response Team while being activated with the Nebraska Army National Guard. We assisted the state by providing COVID testing to populations throughout Nebraska. Shortly after, I accepted a position with Nomi Health to continue the efforts of rapid COVID response across the country.”
So much of Ortiz’s life and career experiences helped her thrive in Nomi Health’s field operations department, including operational knowledge acquired while serving in the National Guard and adaptability skills developed while working in community nutrition. Now, as the company expands its health care services, Ortiz is taking on a new role as senior operations analyst. “I hope to contribute to the design of new programs that address overall wellness and health care improvement initiatives,” she says. “As an RDN, I want to emphasize prevention and treatment measures for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, especially for underserved and minority communities.”
This sentiment has spanned Ortiz’s work thus far. “All of my work has been community-based and focused on leaving communities better off than when we began our collaborative exchange,” she says. “Although there have been times in my professional life where I felt that I was wasting time because I was not focusing all my efforts on becoming the best dietitian and nutrition expert possible, I have realized that I must experience different settings and cultures to offer the best and most comprehensive services in nutrition and health care.”