Funny how little experiences in childhood can ignite a career! For Roxana Ehsani, it was cooking activities and playing sports in her neighborhood and school. Growing up around a lot of other children because her mother ran a childcare center in her home, and the neighborhood was teaming with kids, her days were full of creative play, healthy snacks, and lots of outdoor physical activity.
Roxana, her brother, and the neighborhood kids spent most of their time after school and in the summers playing sports outside – basketball, football, tag and hide and seek. She became a devoted athlete including dance, basketball, cross country, and triathlons in her middle and high school years. One incident stands out as a spark that led to an interest in healthy eating and nutrition. She and her friends drank milkshakes before cross country practice, and she felt so sick that she started to read and learn how to properly fuel the body. “There wasn’t much education about nutrition in school,” she recalled.
They often did kitchen activities and one day her mother brought home a Betty Crocker cake mix. She loved making it. She considered training to be a pastry chef instead of doing an undergraduate degree, but her father suggested she could be a dietitian. “Get an undergraduate degree first and then we can send you to culinary school,” he advised.
A Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) Introduction to Nutrition course as a freshman clinched it for Roxana. She loved the course. The professor, a Registered Dietitian, was passionate and engaging, and shared stories about patients in her consulting practice. “Her passion shined through. I absolutely knew I wanted to be a dietitian.” Roxana graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a degree in Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise and a concentration in Dietetics.
She knew she wanted to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, so she selected a Future Education Model graduate program, a new pathway for people to complete coursework and internship requirements within two years. She earned a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics and completed her Dietetic Internship at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Centers. She spent most of that second year doing clinical dietetics in the hospital and though she valued the experience, she did not like working in the hospital. The work was very repetitive, and she found herself feeling uncomfortable in patient’s rooms. “They were sick and didn’t want to talk to me,” she felt. After studying for several months, she passed the registration exam and was awarded her RDN.
Over the next 5 years, Roxana piled up her experiences in a wide variety of nutrition fields. She had a summer job at IMG Academy, a boarding school for student athletes in Florida, doing sports nutrition with students and pro athletes across all ages and skill levels. Next, she was a consulting dietitian at the George Washington University student health center and Georgetown University athletic department. She enjoyed these opportunities to counsel people and run group classes about nutrition on a variety of issues.
Four months at a Women, Infants and Children center was enough to know that wasn’t the environment for her. She valued working with a diverse group of people and using her Spanish language skills, but “I felt like I wasn’t able to educate the clients, but just handing out WIC checks.” Once she landed at Giant Foods in Washington, DC she found a work environment she loved. It felt like running her own business because she controlled her own schedule, developed marketing strategies to attract clients from the store and community including schools, work places, government agencies, law firms and created programs that catered to their needs. Every day was different, interesting and challenging. She worked there for four and a half years.
Now living in Las Vegas because her boyfriend is doing a 3-year medical residency, Roxana works for an insurance company providing one-on-one education and counseling for policy holders. The work is providing another opportunity to sort out what she enjoys and what she doesn’t. She conducts back-to-back consultations that are mostly clinical in nature. “ I don’t feel like I am reaching my full potential in my current role. I have so many skill sets that I have acquired through my previous roles and unfortunately my current role doesn’t allow me to use these.”
Working from home due to Covid 19, she has had time to start her own business. She built a website and figured out how to accept insurance, so she can work with private clients while also doing what she loves most, media and presentations. “While I was at Giant, I learned a lot about marketing and media because it was like we had our own private practice,” she recalled. Ultimately, she would like to have a full-time private practice, and hire dietitians to see patients freeing her to do media like live TV segments, social media content, print magazines, and radio. “I love the media world and am thrilled to be serving a three-year term as a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics which has been a professional goal and a huge honor.”
Her advice to other professionals?
I am happy to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Even though I don’t want to work as a clinical dietitian, all the education has helped me understand the needs of people and how to help them.
Ask for more money. Don’t undervalue your services. Let’s elevate the profession together by demanding we get paid what we are worth. Love what you do. I’m very competitive so I won’t settle for something I don’t love.