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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A coffee a day makes a registered dietitian?

At the end of the day on July 19th, I was officially unemployed.  My dietetic internship was complete, I was a few weeks away from eligibility to take the Registered Dietitian exam (paperwork, etc), and I had a lot of studying to do BEFORE I would be prepared.  Alas once again I was a student with no job and at that moment, no credentials.  In the words of Scooby doo, “Ruh roh.”
After a few days of non-sense and reclaiming my house after 4 weeks of disorganization madness during Staff Relief and Graduation week, I embarked upon the daunting task of studying.  The RD exam costs a few hundred dollars to take it and I only intended to take it ONCE.  Each Dietetic Internship program (in my case, the Memphis VAMC) is ranked by multiple components, including the first-time pass rate of its graduates.  The Memphis Director let it be known that thus far she had a 100% success rate (against a national average of ~82%) and that she Would. Not. Accept. Anything. Less.  Fear tactic.  It totally worked.  That, and I am very thrifty.
For the first few days, my study habits were in constant flux.  I studied at home at night, I studied at coffee shops in the morning, I studied at the public library in the afternoon.  No two days were the same; my habits were less than admirable despite lofty ambitions.  Early on, I resolved to intensely read and take notes from my ENTIRE medical nutrition therapy book, a textbook used in graduate school for two classes over the course of a year.  In fact approximately 50% of the RD exam is composed of clinical dietetics, however there is MUCH more to study (i.e. the other 50%).  In truth, I was neglecting the real fact that the Memphis VA internship focused heavily on clinical dietetics and thus I was the most prepared for this section already.  After a few days, I developed a study plan and recognized some trends:
  1. I was not a very good studier at home for this material.  There was always something else to do, cook, rearrange, clean, or plant that would interrupt me every 15 minutes.
  2. I was a moderate student at the library, but the forbidden food and drink rule was a strong deterrent to 4-5 hour visits.
  3. I was surprisingly a good studier at coffee shops.  Usually the hustle, bustle, and restrained sounds of a coffee shop were just enough distraction to keep me undistracted.

Painted back shed at Otherlands Coffee
Accordingly, I googled Memphis coffee shops  and made a list that included a) the name of EVERY coffee shop in Memphis, b) the address, and c) an area for checkmarks to record number of visits.  I literally drank coffee at Every.  Single.  Coffee.  Shop.  In.  Memphis.  No fancy drinks to dry up my wallet, but just a reliable drip with soymilk.  Less than $2 each day plus lunch/snacks in my backpack fit into my unemployment budget.  Gradually I developed favorite coffee house but was adamant to check off all the places on my list at least once.  Thanks to this inconsequential resolve, I found new favorites, met many interesting people, and tasted many, many delicious coffees!  I visited 16 different coffee shops, 4 of which were Starbucks, and 10 others which were independent establishments.  Expectedly my favorites fell into the latter category of unique, inimitable establishments.  Favorites:  Bluff City Coffee & Otherlands Coffee, two places that served up delicious coffee (available in real mugs or paper take-away), reliable WiFi and quiet, distracted atmospheres.  It was like home.
Occasionally my coffee shop time involved too much internet footling, but would always eventually morph into productivity.  I forced minimum productivity hours per day, 5-6 days per week, studied textbooks, practice exams and oral-auditory study guides.  At night, I read non-textbook nutrition books for an hour or so (really only because I think they are fun!).  Once I fell asleep, I usually dreamt of nutrition topics or study questions, and oh-too-frequently woke myself up in the middle of the night talking in my sleep.
Side Note: This dream embodiment is not particularly uncommon for me…  When I worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand in 2010 (Dairy farm post 3 of 4, See “day 8”), I frequently dreamt of cows, usually picturing them roaming the house and continued to do so for weeks after I left the farm!  Last year in South Africa, I dreamt of baboons for months and months after I left C.A.R.E. (Life as a C.A.R.E. volunteer post), and once a few months after moving to Memphis, I combined dreams of baboons and enteral tubefeeding.  My worlds collided head on!
Finally, the day came to take the RD exam: Thursday, September 5, 2013.  I had prepared adequately and to my satisfaction and felt ready!  (Or so I thought...)  In keeping with tradition, I visited a close by Starbucks to do a final review pre-exam, and then drove over to the testing center.  During the exam I was confronted with some easy-answer reassuring questions, as well as with questions that were beyond my study domains.  Some of the questions came seemingly out of nowhere and rocked my confidence mid-exam; it was unnerving to eliminate two potential answers but have two remaining with no frank idea.  Predictably these came in the non-clinical domain, such as, “According to the process-improvement management theory …” or “The Joint Commission requires that employee competence be re-evaluated every XX years …”  My gradually rising heart rate predicted calamity, but thankfully at the end I was wrong!
“Congratulations!You passed the Registered Dietitian’s exam!”
Tears slowly crept into my eyes.  Relief was not there yet, just high levels of anxiety abating.  I sat in my car in the parking lot for literally 45 minutes before I was calm and relaxed again.  I talked to my mom twice.  I sent a few return texts.  I let calmness reclaim my mind.  I DID IT!

Two days later, I unexpectedly received a letter in the mail from the Memphis Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.  Even more great news to the week: I WON A $500 SCHOLARSHIP!  “Life has a funny way of working out just when you start to believe it never will.”


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