RDN Spotlight: Michelle Paillere MS, RDN, CDN, CSOWM
What is your ethnicity/race? Did your family have any customs related to food?
I am Latina. My parents are both from the Dominican Republic. Growing up we had many family customs around food. One in particular is for Easter weekend. My mother would make a traditional dish called "habichuelas con dulce" which is literally translated to "sweet beans." It is similar to a rice pudding, but instead of using rice, we use pureed beans that are sweetened with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and some sweet potato for texture. It's definitely worth a try!
Where did you go to school and complete your dietetic internship?
I did my undergrad, dietetic internship and grad school all in one place. I graduated from Long Island University (LIU) with my undergrad in Nutrition in 2013. I was matched with the Dietetic Internship program at LIU and graduated the following year. I decided to continue with their program for my Master's in Clinical Nutrition and graduated in May of 2016.
Why did you decide to choose nutrition and dietetics as a career?
I didn't really know I could have a career in nutrition and dietetics. My family has a long history of obesity and I was heading down the same route. I was overweight from the ages of 6 until 11 years old. My mother played a major role in helping me develop a healthier relationship with food. In junior high school she started cooking healthier and got my whole family into an exercise routine. That is where my love for food, health and wellness started to grow.
I choose Nutrition as my major because it was genuinely an interest of mine. Throughout the program, I learned that I could become a dietitian, so I decided to give it a try. I am grateful for the professors who encouraged me to pursue this dream. I honestly cannot imagine myself doing anything else!
WHAT DO YOU DO NOW AS AN RDN AND WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I am currently a bariatric dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. My days are filled either meeting with patients one-on-one or conducting educational classes. Every Tuesday I teach a Fundamentals of Nutrition class. In this class we discuss healthy eating with a focus on consuming more whole foods, reading the food label and exercise. The second half of that class focuses on the bariatric post-operative diet (post-op stages: liquid, purees and solids, high protein, small frequent meals, vitamin recommendations and fluid requirements). I also lead monthly support groups for our bariatric patients who are both pre and post-operative. We discuss topics like weight bias/stigma, weight maintenance after surgery, body image, mindful eating etc. We also invite social workers, clinical psychologist, yoga instructors, chef’s and Zumba instructors to join our groups. In between classes, I counsel patients before and after surgery. Pre-operatively we work on a realistic and attainable weight loss goal. We create an individualized meal plan to achieve that goal before surgery. Post-operatively we discuss the diet progression for appropriate healing as well as fluid and vitamin requirements. All classes, consultations and support groups are available in both English and Spanish to better serve our patient population.
What is or was the biggest challenge for you in becoming a dietitian and how did you overcome that challenge?
I am still overcoming the challenge of "looking different". During my undergrad, dietetic internship and grad school, I was one of the only Latinas in my class. I never felt that I was treated differently, however, I just knew that I was different. I thought I was not as smart as my fellow classmates.
Even now, as a practicing dietitian, when I am in a group of dietitians, I feel "less than". I don't know exactly where that feeling comes from, but I am working on believing that I am "good enough". I have finally come to terms that I bring something special to the dietetic field. The majority of my patients are Spanish speaking, so there is a different level of rapport that I have built with them. It brings me joy to know that I am providing quality nutrition education to a population that is generally overlooked due to a language barrier.
Have you had any mentors in your career? If yes how have those mentors affected your career/life?
My first nutrition professor was a great mentor of mine. The first class I took with her was a cultural foods class. She had years of experience in nutrition counseling, and I admired how much she loved to learn about her patient population. She later became my mentor for my Honor's thesis and my reader for my Master's thesis. It is evident that she loves what she does and I hope after many years of practice I can still say the same.
How do you envision the future of the nutrition and dietetics profession?
I long to see the dietetic profession at the forefront of preventative care. It would be great to have dietitians in primary care offices counseling patients on preventing chronic disease. Many times, patients do not get access to nutrition counseling until after they are diagnosed with diabetes or are on dialysis. Being able to teach patients to take control of their health is powerful!
Why do you think diversifying the field of nutrition is important?
Diversifying the field of dietetics is important for both dietitians and patients. When dietitians from various cultural backgrounds come together, it creates an opportunity to learn from each other. The experience goes beyond what you read in a textbook.
For patients, it allows for deeper quality of care. There is a commonality between the dietitian and the patient. Whether it is understanding cultural foods, language, or holiday celebrations. It is a special thing when the provider reflects the population they serve.
What advice would you give a student of color interested in entering this profession?
Bring all of who you are, it is needed! Do not get intimidated because you don't look like everyone else. It takes a bold person like you to spark change!
Nutrition is fascinating and always changing. It is a field where you learn to empower patients through the knowledge of food. If this excites you, don't let anything hold you back!