RDN Spotlight: Markita Lewis, MS, RDN
What is your ethnicity/race? Did your family have any customs related to food?
I identify as African American or Black. I am originally from Louisiana, so my cultural foodways are rooted in Cajun and Creole cuisine. I feel that food was connected to any family gathering or good time that we had, and foods even had their own seasons of prominence. During the springtime, especially during Lent,we would have "Seafood Fridays" or "Seafood Saturdays". We'd either have boiled shrimp, sausage, and potatoes or boiled crawfish from the local seafood market. The spring and summer were filled with festivals dedicated to food (my hometown is the Jambalaya Capital of the World and has an annual Jambalaya Festival). During the wintertime, [our food customs were] when my mom would make pecan candy. The holidays were a time of eating good gumbo or crawfish fettuccine, or a new recipe that had been found in a cookbook.
Where did you go to school and complete your dietetic internship?
For my undergraduate degree, I attended Louisiana State University from 2010 to 2014 and graduated with honors and as a University Medalist. I chose to pursue a combined masters in science/internship program at the University of Georgia (UGA), and attended UGA from 2014-2016.
What do you do now as an RDN and what does a typical day look like for you?
I currently work in a large teaching hospital as a clinical in-patient dietitian. In a typical day, I begin by screening patients who need to be seen (I currently cover a general medicine ward and an orthopedics ward). After I've screened, I go up to the wards to speak with my patients, conduct an interview, physical exam, and speak with other team staff as needed. In the afternoon, most of my time is dedicated to charting. During the week, we have a weekly team meeting, I participate in hospital pressure ulcer rounds, and occasionally we have wellness tables or other opportunities for education and training.
Why did you decide to choose nutrition and dietetics as a career?
My original career plan was not to be a dietitian. Originally, partially inspired by my mother and her love of cooking, I wanted to be a chef. But when I was in middle school I realized that the chef life was a bit more difficult than I'd originally thought. Despite this, I wanted to have a career that involved food in some way, and allowed me to help others. I ended up stumbling across the career option of being a dietitian and stuck with it!
What was the biggest challenge for you in becoming a dietitian and how did you overcome it?
Academically, I don't feel like I had any challenges in becoming a dietitian. Entering a STEM field, I was aware of the rigor of my coursework and voluntarily chose to add courses and other experiences to my higher education because I enjoyed learning and broadening my understanding of the world. My biggest challenge was trying to engage my classmates (and later on, the students I worked with when I was a teaching assistant) in overcoming limited and often incorrect viewpoints on social determinants of health and how they viewed the populations they would eventually serve as professionals.
Have you had any mentors in your career if yes how have those mentors affected you?
I have had a few informal mentors throughout the years, but I am still searching for a mentor to help guide me through my early professional career. I think these people who have shown up in my life have encouraged me to continue on in my work even if I'm feeling negative about things. They have also helped me learn that there are many paths to take as a dietitian, and there is always something unique or different that you can bring to the world, especially if the status quo does not serve you.
Why do you think diversifying the field of nutrition is important?
If we don't diversify this field, we are going to end up with an echo chamber of ideas and beliefs that do not serve the people we want to help nor ourselves. We're going to continue to have people not engage with health because they feel that a particular healthy lifestyle is associated with a race, or with a gender. [Professionals] in the field are going to continue to create health programs that take [patients and clients] away from their cultural foodways and make them feel that their culture is inherently unhealthy. Our innovation in keeping this field alive for another 100 years or more is going to be a lot more difficult without diversifying this field. I cannot think of a reason why one wouldn't want to diversify the field more.
What advice would you give a student of color interested in entering this profession?
Don't be afraid to stand out in a room and speak up. It may be intimidating if you're at a predominately white institution and you can count on one hand all of the people of color in your particular cohort (like I could). But don't be afraid to make your perspective and your life experiences known. Say what you feel needs to be said, and know that you're not alone in this field. Your words are important and may have an impact beyond what you may have ever thought. And, even if you're not trying to make an impact, why make yourself small for other people?
Markita is originally from south Louisiana and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.. Markita has a professional interest in learning more about food culture and how to help others maintain cultural identity while achieving a healthy lifestyle. Markita likes to consider herself a modern Renaissance woman – she is a writer of short fiction and poetry, a skater for Angel City Derby, a self-proclaimed Fake Art Student, a published researcher, and activist.You can follow her on her website or on Instagram.